Online education hype: The Stanford experiment

I just posted a comment on a Chronicle of Education column by Kevin Carey about an online education experiment at Stanford. The Stanford experiment, involving an AI class taught by computer scientist Sebastian Thrun, was an incredible success — more than 100,000 people took it. It’s also proof of the effectiveness of online education to spread knowledge to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend the class in person. I’ve been a big fan of Khan Academy for years, and fully support what MIT is doing with MITx.

But what I object to is when people falsely equate online and in-classroom education. As I have said repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, the online experience is not the same. It may be more convenient, but it fails in several key respects. After Carey made the claim that the online students in the Stanford class “were experiencing exactly what the Stanford students were experiencing,” I responded with this comment:

No they weren’t.

They couldn’t raise their hands or participate in any spontaneous exchange of ideas with the instructor and each other.

They couldn’t approach the professor after class at the podium to ask follow-up questions.

They were watching the lecture on a small video screen. The in-class students were getting a full-resolution, high fidelity experience.

Did they have advantages over the in-class students? Certainly — being able to rewind the video or study from their comfort of your home is incredibly liberating. And many of those students were certainly more dedicated than the in-class students who fell asleep.

But the claim that the online experience is “exactly” the same is false. The idea that it’s “better” is also debatable, although that depends a lot on the values individuals assign to face-to-face educational interaction, convenience, and other factors.

What do you think? Is the Stanford experiment a harbinger of things to come, or is it a bunch of unwarranted hype for online education?


One thought on “Online education hype: The Stanford experiment

  1. I totally agree, online is convenient, it has benefits, but you can not compare this to in the classroom. Like comparing apples and oranges, both fruit yet but very different fruit. Blended learning is the best form of education at the moment.

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