Supplementing classes with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) improves child performance at school, a new research project has found.

“Teachers reported that students were learning and grasping new content at home, [so] they did not need to spend as much time on explanations at the start of lessons,” said the report by Nesta, an innovation charity, and the National Foundation for Education Research.

This allowed students to focus on more advanced work in class like applying their new skills to solve problems. Teachers were able to spend time engaging them in higher-level discussions, according to the report.

Nine schools in the UK piloted online videos to teach mathematics. The 9-18 year old students watched videos about new topics on a non-profit MOOC provider before they came to class.

The online lessons helped teachers identify students who are better at independent learning, pairing them with those who were struggling. “Some of these students had poor organisation skills and would not look at the videos for homework, whilst others who did would get frustrated when they could not understand something and were unable to ask a teacher,“ it said.

Students who were weak in mathematics did not benefit as much from the video lessons, the report said. But teachers could focus the freed up time in class to explain concepts to them, it added.

The online lessons also encouraged students take more responsibility for their learning, rather than relying on the teacher to give them all the information.

However, teachers and students did report four key challenges in using the online videos. Some students could not get regular access to computers between every lesson. Some preferred pen and paper, or face-to-face interaction over a computer screen. The videos were also challenging for students who were not used to regularly completing homework. And some teachers felt that the videos were too advanced or not structured as they would normally plan.

Read the full report here.

Image above by Flickr user Zhao !; licensed under CC BY 2.0.