Which format of homework (online or traditional) shows more benefits for student’s performance?
In an online world, what are the benefits of online homework on teacher workload, student engagement, motivation and acting on feedback. This research offers school leaders an opportunity to reflect in their homework policy.
In a systematic review, Online vs. traditional homework: A systematic review on the benefits to students’ performance, this 17-page paper evaluates the benefits of “online platforms for teachers to assign and monitor homework completed by students.”
- Traditional “homework provides teachers the opportunity to extend the time of learning outside school hours”, providing students with an opportunity to “review, practice and consolidate” their learning.
- The “data on [traditional] homework indicates both positive and negative impacts on students’ learning.”
- As administrative tasks increase for teachers, “grading traditional homework may be a burden and often considered a non-feasible task.”
- The benefits of online homework include, “reduction in time needed to copy, distribute, and collect homework.”
- Online systems allow “teachers to substantially reduce the time spent grading the homework assignments of all students.”
- “Students can receive immediate and individualised feedback”, providing an opportunity for students “to correct the errors, submit new versions… in a timely manner.”
It is worth noting, that there are positives and negatives to each method. On the latter, there is an increased opportunity for students to copy or, with the “possibility of multiple submissions”, encourages the student to guess the answer.
Literature on traditional homework shows that, when teachers grade homework and mark incorrect answers accompanied by an explanation on how they can improve and correct those mistakes, students are likely to improve the quality of their work (Elawar & Corno, 1985; Williams, 2010)
Methodology and Literature Review
This review focused on comparing online versus traditional homework and its benefits on students’ performance. For clarification, a systematic review searches historical studies and data analysis; research that has been peer-reviewed, and in this case, English language only. The research only included quantitative measures for comparison (e.g. final grades).
From a total of 507 past research papers identified, using the following search terms and a number of database searches, 31 past studies on homework (13 of which specified gender) were included in this systematic review.
The two database keywords were used for searches. They were:
- Online homework
- Web-based homework.
The research review ranges from 2002 to date, with the majority published after 2009.
- 24 of the 31 research articles reported that the platform selected included some type of feedback varying in complexity.
- Types of feedback include identifying common errors, individual coaching, extended consolidation exercises and checking for correct and incorrect answers.
- One disadvantage of online homework is that “trial and error submissions” could reinforce lazy behaviour.
Regarding the debate on the purposes of homework, and that we still do not yet know what type of homework leads to better performance, this paper also suggests that the majority of the studies “do not refer the purpose underlying the assignment of homework, with the few that do highlighting the purpose of practicing concepts and skills.”
The researchers concluded that no differences were found between online and traditional homework regarding students’ performance.
However, when evaluating students’ perceptions, there was a “consensus that online homework contributes more to students’ performance and favors more students’ engagement than traditional homework.”
What should teachers do?
It appears we are still in unknown waters in terms of evaluating what type of homework task has on standards.
Whilst this research evaluates online vs. traditional in terms of grades, what type of homework task was set? Plus, if we are still quite some distance off evaluating type of task set versus outcome, then we may be a few decades away from evaluating what impact homework (type of) tasks have on motivation, behaviour, attendance, mental health and/or self-regulation to name a few possible areas of evaluation.
Context is key with all research. School leaders and teachers should continue to evaluate what type of homework task set and the method used (online or paper) is best for their (students/age/subjects). Online platforms will save teachers time, but may also continue to increase teacher workload after school hours.
With online technology, the range of exercises to help students prepare for exams will be beneficial. As ever, we must be mindful that 9 per cent of UK households do not have an Internet connection at home, and even if they do, many students will not have access to a device at home.
We know “school engagement is a strong predictor of academic achievement” (Finn & Zimmer, 2012). Whether you are for or against homework, deeper learning does promote more academic success. If homework and feedback contribute to this success, schools, teachers and parents must work out how best to do this in their context.
Question to consider:
- What differences should be considered for different key stages or subject?
- Should type of homework method used vary according to the academic year?
- For schools who use traditional homework methods, how can they increase the provision of instant feedback?
Researchers reported that students preferred the online format over the traditional format of homework delivery, even when their studies did not report differences in terms of students’ performance.