Learning On-Line

Doing educational research is tricky. Unlike in clinical trials, investigators can’t limit all variables or deny some students knowledge. The slipperiness of qualitative research has left many questions about the effectiveness of on-line learning unanswered.

A report this summer for the National Bureau of Economic Research adds another finding to the ongoing debate. The authors, academic economists, attempted to create a controlled experiment by dividing students taking a microeconomics course into a “live” learning group and a virtual group. They found that low-achieving, male, and Hispanic students performed significantly better with the in-person format.

All the usual limitations on educational research apply to this study, but it does suggest that synchronous learning still has its benefits. Just like e-readers are not replacing traditional books, all these teaching methods can exist simultaneously. The internet is not a panacea for higher education, but it offers powerful tools for learning.

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2 Responses to “Learning On-Line”

  1. Laura Gibbs says:

    Hi Peter, I don’t see much of value in this study for people (like myself) who believe that courses should be designed with the online format in mind, instead of just simulating an in-classroom event (lecture) with an online substitute for the same. The study seems to consider an internet-delivered lecture without any interactive features, to be a form of “internet instruction.” I find it very disheartening that anybody thinks this is where the benefits of online education will be found; it doesn’t sound especially “instructive,” and certainly not in ways that make good use of the Internet as an interactive space.

    The comments on a piece at the NYTimes online about this same study are illuminating in this regard I think:


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