Pros and Cons of Online Education

Source: Cato Unbound website, Nov 2012

To review briefly I suggested that online education has the following advantages:

  • Leverage of the best professors teaching more students.
  • Large time savings from less repetition in lectures (students in control of what to repeat) and from lower fixed costs (no need to drive to university).
  • Greater flexibility in when lectures are consumed (universities open 24 hours a day) and in the lecture format (no need to limit to 50 minutes).
  • Greater scope for productivity improvements as capital substitutes for labor and greater incentive to invest in productivity when the size of the market increases.
  • Greater scope for randomized controlled trials of educational strategies thus more learning about what works in education.

Rather than contrasting offline with online, I am more interested in how online can complement and improve traditional education methods. Instead of either-or, let’s think about flipping the classroom or other techniques that can take advantage of the best of both worlds.

I’d also like to see more comparisons and more empirical evidence. Here’s a question. How large does the typical classroom have to be before an online classroom is superior? Five students? Thirty? One hundred? My answers are that a philosophy seminar with five students is going to be better face-to-face. In a class of thirty, I’d take a good online class over a typical offline class. In a class of one hundred I’d take online every time. What do others say? Where is the dividing line and why?


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