Monday, March 14, 2011

Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning

4.6 million students in the United States (1 out of every 4) took a college-level online course at the start of the 2008/9 academic year. That figure rose to 5.6 million students in 2009/10, according to the eighth annual Sloan Survey of Online Learning, a report which uses data from more than 2,500 colleges and universities in the United States.

The importance of face-to-face lectures for students’ academic achievement has been demonstrated in previous economics studies such as Schmidt (1983); Romer (1993); Durden and Ellis (1995); Dolton, Marcenaro and Navarro (2003); Martins and Walker (2006) and Cohn and Johnson (2006). Therefore, it should be a priority to establish how online lectures compare; as many students are already learning online to some extent (as indicated by the Sloan Survey). A recent NBER paper by Figlio, Rush and Lin (2010) investigates the issue; details below.

Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning
David Figlio (, Mark Rush and Lu Yin
No 16089, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

Abstract: This paper presents the first experimental evidence on the effects of live versus internet media of instruction. Students in a large introductory microeconomics course at a major research university were randomly assigned to live lectures versus watching these same lectures in an internet setting, where all other factors (e.g., instruction, supplemental materials) were the same. Counter to the conclusions drawn by a recent U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of non-experimental analyses of internet instruction in higher education, we find modest evidence that live-only instruction dominates internet instruction. These results are particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students. We also provide suggestions for future experimentation in other settings.

JEL-codes: I20 I23
Date: 2010-06

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