Online versus traditional homework

Right now we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the world has got into lockdown. This meant that school have closed and moved to an off-site and online learning mode. Students are at home and their learning is taking place through online methods. There has been a sudden shift to online teaching and learning. Now more than ever we need to understand the benefits and pitfalls surrounding this new mode of education.

For the moment, the shift to online learning appears to be temporary. When lockdown eases, schools will return to classroom delivery. In fact, I have returned to work and am back in the classroom following on from several weeks of off-site working and online teaching.

Benefits to working online in education

Literature has for while described the benefits of working online in education settings. Homework is one area which has had considerable research since the advent of technology and platforms suitable for educational environments. There is evidence of benefits for both teachers and students. The research literature has considered how homework allows for increased student engagement, improved  depth of subject matter, and increased skills in self-regulated learning. For teachers, it provides the opportunity to extend the time of learning outside of the classroom as well as to monitor student progress. Homework however, does have a downside. Research has shown that homework needs to have value, fulfil a purpose and not used as a pressuring tool. 

Technology in education

Technology provides students the ability to learn and access information on demand and without geographic restrictions and limitations. The use of technology and platforms provides many benefits to students such as immediate and individualised feedback, the opportunity to correct errors and refine work and resubmit. This can allow students to develop a mastery-approach t learning where mistakes are a valued part of learning and the end result is for understanding.

Computer use in education is prevalent throughout the world. Little is understood how online use for homework outperforms traditional forms of homework.

Research on online homework

A large-scale meta-analysis of comparisons of rational versus online homework was conducted by Magalhaes et al (2020). The focus of their study was to understanding what format of homework has more benefits for student performance. In this meta-analysis, college students were the prime population although some secondary school students studies were also included.

Most of the papers surveyed used convenience samples and this may have methodological issues such as the ability to control for influences that might interfere with the sample results.

Research Findings

Overall, the researchers found that after allowing for the differences in the studies used in the meta-analysis (differing measures, outcomes, non-standardised instruments), they found that there was little difference in benefits between traditional and online homework. Both modes of homework appear to be equally effective for their intended purpose.

There were differences were found in the responses by students to some of the research questions. Students’ perceptions and opinions of online homework were more favourable than traditional homework. The majority of students in the meta-analysis favoured online homework over more traditional modes of homework. Furthermore, the meta-analysis found that students’ believed online homework more beneficial for their engagement and academic success. This has to be a positive outcome for students despite little rigorous evidence to support their views. This is a strong argument in favour of online homework for academic success.

Educational implications are students’ believe online homework is more beneficial for their engagement, learning and academic success. Beliefs form a very large part of academic achievement and the more we can do as teachers promote positive academic self-concept, the greater the potential for students.

© Teacher Motivation (2020)

Magalhães, P., Ferreira, D., Cunha, J., & Rosário, P. (2020). Online vs traditional homework: A systematic review on the benefits to students’ performance. Computers & Education, 152.

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