Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Online Education's Advantage

I'm a big fan, and hope the best for Marginal Revolutions new online class, as Alex Tabarrok notes:
Dale Carnegie’s advice to “tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said” makes sense for a live audience. If 20% of your students aren’t following the lecture, it’s natural to repeat some of the material so that you keep the whole audience involved and following your flow. But if you repeat whenever 20% of the audience doesn’t understand something, that means that 80% of the audience hear something twice that they only needed to hear once. Highly inefficient. 
Carnegie’s advice is dead wrong for an online audience. Different medium, different messaging. In an online lecture it pays to be concise. Online, the student is in control and can choose when and what to repeat. The result is a big time-savings as students proceed as fast as their capabilities can take them, repeating only what they need to further their individual understanding.

Little 20 minute expositions of some fundamental principle, by a teaching all-star, would seem to dominate your average professor. I hope this progresses enough so that my kids can safely skip college and learn what they need online. I'm sure there will be alternatives for them to learn social skills and form valuable cliques and like-minded aquaintences.

My only beef with MR's course is the subject: developement economics.  If there's one subject that defies economic analysis, it's development, as there's no consensus on what ails Africa, or Haiti. What are the odds they have something useful to say about how to make an average poor country better? Economists didn't support Konrad Adenauer when he brought West Germany out of ruin after WW2, or any other economic success story. Instead, look at the post colonial stagnation cheered on by Western elites who thought there's a 'third way'.


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Anonymous said...

Tyler Cowen, at least, has written about and linked to many articles about Haiti, which leads me to think he may be in a good position to offer some thoughts about development economics there.

Tel said...

Seems to me that education is a lot like software, in as much as once someone has written a good book on a subject then it can in theory be copied a million times so in principle at least there should be no shortage.

Needless to say, people don't read books anymore (especially students) so presume I'm talking about instructional videos, or interactive simulations or something.

However, there's a second side to the education industry -- awarding certifications. It's going to be a lot harder to replace that with software, but online examinations are turning up (multiple choice questions, etc).

Anonymous said...

Funny, Post-colonial Asia has done phenomenally well. Post colonial Africa or nations populated by Sub-Saharan Africans? Not so much. The difference? Well, it is very obvious and empirically mapped out to such a degree that only a moron or the willfully ignorant would not see the logical conclusion. The problem is once again PC, so pretend ignorance is the order of the day. Advancing a false theory with semi-plausible rationalizations - A brilliant career move in the social sciences!

As for education - Tough to change because the obsolete structure is primarily a middle-class jobs program.

Mercury said...

“I hope this progresses enough so that my kids can safely skip college and learn what they need online.”

Amen. But I think there is real added value in human tutoring too. That was also the convincing conclusion in Neal Stephenson’s (fictional) ‘Diamond Age’.

“If there's one subject that defies economic analysis, it's development, as there's no consensus on what ails Africa, or Haiti.”

That’s probably most attributable to the vested interests and taboos standing in the way of zeroing in on the truth.

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Jason Young said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Young said...

students underestimate how often they need to revisit material before it's internalized. the more ingenious instructors recognize this and weave prior content into their presentations to help students recollect and apply concepts they might otherwise forget or compartmentalize.

the trouble w/online videos is that they'll be selected for self-containment (broad appeal). the importance of personalized ''conceptual relationships'' may be overlooked.

runalltheway said...

Having done a lot of online and distance education (I did most of my undergrad degree this way) I am NOT a fan of the "online education revolution."

Eric, if you had studied at university online, rather than on campus, would you have had a chance to work with Minsky?

Unlike Tel (above) I definitely don't agree that education is like software - the knowledge may be transferrable in the same manner, but much of the educational experience is actually about building networks within your future industry, not book learning.

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Tel said...

runalltheway: Most of the young people I meet seem to think that the networking opportunities provided by the Internet are better than any physical world equivalent. That probably wasn't the case 10 years ago so if universities are hoping to make that their main drawcard, they are in for disappointment.

Also, there's no intrinsic reason why education and networking should be entangled. They often have been, but only because of historic accident. You can hang around on Facebook and meet a lot of people and learn nothing, or you can sit reading articles and documentation online and learn a lot all on your own.

If you really think that meeting people face to face is so important, there are lots of conferences covering every imaginable topic. Buying your way into conferences is not cheap, but much cheaper than typical university fees.

J said...

We are wired to relate to humans. Person to person teaching will not disappear.

Anonymous said...

I have got anything out of listening to a teachers presentation beyond entertainment/fascination. Learning is an individual activity that usually involves reading, working through problems, and memorization of facts. Tutors on the other hand are very useful, as they can intervene at points of friction that would stop or slow down the learning process. I think expanding the role of active tutoring (including verbal testing) would be an improvement. The generic "teacher's lecture" that is the basis for most class time is truly obsolete.

Susan R Wing said...

Online education will be helpful to almost everyone who is thinking to continue studying along with there daily routine work.

Carol Lee said...

Exactly,each student has it own learning pace. This is one of the advantage of
online degree education as compared to traditional learning.

jinky carpio said...

There are no questions with the advantages of online education. Traditional schooling can not beat the convenience the web-based education has to offer. However it should not also be neglected the brighter side of traditional learning. But anyways, thank you for the useful information you'd shared.