A group of researchers from the Cleveland Clinic, a well respected medical school and research center, published a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine that clearly validates the use of online courses to teach mindfulness based meditation. The team enrolled about 700 people in a randomized, parallel, controlled trial, with a control group that received no intervention. The subjects were recruited from clinics, referrals, web sites, and flyers, and were self selected. Generally the subjects were well educated and computer literate prior to the study, but had very little or no experience in meditation. The primary objective was to evaluate whether the online mindfulness program effectively decreased stress and improved mindfulness, self-acceptance, self-transcendence, and vitality as measured by validated outcomes questionnaires.
During the twelve-week study the subjects were administered six validated and reliable measures to measure the primary outcomes. Appropriate statistical methods were used to analyze the results.
It was expected that there would be relatively high dropout rates, for that is the case generally with most online courses, for people frequently find it difficult to work the online exercises into their daily work and family schedules. The completion rates were 33% to 44% for the various subgroups of subjects. But since the study was designed with this predicted, there were still adequate numbers of subjects to provide the statistical power needed for a valid study.
The researchers found that the online mindfulness program resulted in positive statistically significant outcomes for four of the five measures, and positive results were sustained for four weeks after the completion of the study. Of the subjects who completed a survey after the course, 45 % found the overall program to be very or extremely helpful, 35 % somewhat helpful and 19 % little or not at all helpful. The main reasons cited for dropping out were not enough time, or technical difficulties. Overall the positive psychological outcomes were similar to what have been reported for face-to-face instruction in mindfulness based stress reduction programs.
There are over 2000 published studies that demonstrate the efficacy of mindfulness based stress reduction programs. There is also a large body of educational literature that shows that online instruction can be as effective as classroom instruction. Yet this is one of the first teams to study whether people can gain benefits from mindfulness based meditation instruction in a purely online format. There is certainly much more to be examined in their field, but the initial evidence from this well designed study certainly supports meditation can be effectively learned online.
Morledge, Thomas J., Didier Allexandre, Emily Fox, Alex Z. Fu, Mitchell K. Higashi, Denise T. Kruzikas, Sissi V. Pham, and Pat Ray Reese. “Feasibility of an Online Mindfulness Program for Stress Management–A Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 46 (2013): 137–148. doi:10.1007/s12160-013-9490-x.