What is the Benefit of Online Education?

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias looks at the growth of and support behind online education, citing the new Marginal Revolution University (which deserves its own entry soon; the official site is a banner page with info link; looking around leads to some PR that states the initiative is not a MOOC, but does not define MOOC or set MRU as something different) and the growth of and interest in MOOCs (though Yglesias does not use that monicker, preferring online education through digital technology).

Yglesias then looks at who he considers the winners and losers in a future of online education through digital technology, naming motivated students of low income as the big winners (access without cost barrier), along with conservative politicians who want to keep ed costs down but don’t want to be seen as bailing on education for the masses. The losers, to Yglesias, are student loan companies, and perhaps marginal college students.

This piece is purely an economic or business look at the ramifications of online Ed, but there are inherent assumptions of pedagogy. Yglesias’ thinking here, as I see it, is that learning is a behaviorist notion: education is about passing content along from a gatekeeper to a wanting individual, and said transmission constitutes learning. Motivated kids will do well because they will have access (Yglesias also mentions the potential global impact of MOOCs, though he does not discuss how students in developing nations will gain access to the necessary technology, Costa Rica notwithstanding), and from this perspective marginal kids aren’t getting anything with this new wave of technology.

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