We're in the midst of an explosion in online learning, in part spurred by the Open CourseWare movement and the prodding of proponents like Bill Gates. A new study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, however, suggests that the mass migration of material online may result less effective learning circumstances that impact, in particular, traditionally difficult to educate populations (males, Hispanic students, and low achievers).
The study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University's School of Education and Policy, focused on an introductory course in microeconomics in which more than 1,600 students are enrolled each semester. As a result of space issues, many of the students opt to watch online versions of lectures.
"At the least, our findings indicate that much more experimentation is necessary before one can credibly declare that online education is peer to traditional live classroom instruction, let alone superior to live instruction," the report states.
Online education is often sought as an alternative to live instruction due to cost concerns; the students identified as the most at-risk populations for this discrepancy in teaching quality are also the ones that most likely to seek education opportunities on the Internet.