Evidence Based Design

The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) creates courses based on the findings of learning science and then evaluates those courses based on actual student performance in real classrooms.

Highlighted Studies

The following studies compare the OLI statistics course used in combination with in-class instruction to traditional in-class instruction without OLI. Both studies confirm that the OLI statistics course results in comparable learning outcomes for students with fewer hours of study.


Background: In 2007, Carnegie Mellon conducted a series of “do no harm” studies with the OLI statistics course. The studies show that students using the OLI course, as an online course with minimal instructor contact, performed as well or better than students in traditional instructor-lead classes.

This 2011 study conducted by ITHAKA, a nonprofit research organization, demonstrates the same results using the OLI statistics course outside of Carnegie Mellon—in several large public institutions.

The results of this study are remarkable; they show comparable learning outcomes for this basic course, with a promise of cost savings and productivity gains over time.
— Deanna Marcum - Managing Director, Ithaka S+R

This study contributes to answering the question “Is online better or worse than traditional instruction?” In the follow-on study, on which ITHAKA is currently working, they are looking at the degree to which the variability in outcome is explainable by the way the instructors and students use the OLI course to support teaching and learning. That work will contribute to answering the (more interesting) question “How can the online environment be used most effectively by teachers and students to improve outcomes and reduce cost?”

Bowen, W.G., Chingos, M.M., Lack, K.L., & Nygren, T.I. (2012). Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials. ITHAKA.


This study, conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, shows that students using the OLI statistics course at Carnegie Mellon achieved the same or better learning outcomes as students in the traditional course in half the time.

Lovett, M., Meyer, O., & Thille, C. (2008). The Open Learning Initiative: Measuring the effectiveness of the OLI statistics course in accelerating student learning. Journal of Interactive Media in Education.