The wisdom of Alex Tabarrok

by on November 14, 2012 at 7:25 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

Alex did not reproduce this passage from his essay on on-line education, so I will did (and Reihan Salaam did):

Productivity in education has lagged productivity in other sectors of the economy because teaching is so labor intensive. Where exactly in the typical classroom is there room for investment, let alone productivity improvement? More chalk? Prior to online education, the bottleneck though which productivity improvements had to pass was the teacher, and we know that improving teacher productivity is very difficult, which is why teaching methods haven’t changed in millennia. Online education vastly increases the potential for productivity increases because it greatly increases the size of the potential market. Bigger markets increase the incentive to research and develop new products (coincidentally the very topic of my TED talk.) A tool used to improve online education–an interface, an algorithm, a new teaching method–can be applied very widely, potentially world-wide, thus greatly increasing the incentive to invest in the education sector, perhaps the most important sector of the 21st century economy.

Here are some budges forward on the accreditation of MOOCs.

Addendum: Here are interesting comments from Joshua Gans.

1 dan richwine November 14, 2012 at 7:52 am

I for one have learned far more from classes taught online and on CD than would be possible in a real classroom. It’s quite spoiled me, since I’ve gone back to school I get a bit frustrated with the more traditional classroom.

2 tumm November 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

Care to share a few of the online or CD courses that were especially good?

3 albatross November 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I’m not dan, but:

a. The MIT OCW class on linear algebra was quite nice. I’d learned a bit of linear algebra in learning other stuff I needed to know, but I had never taken a class on it, and it filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I think (but may be wrong) that this would work well even if you’d never learned any linear algebra past Gaussian elimination.

b. Although they’re not exactly courses, I find Vincent Raccaniello’s microbiology and virology podcasts (TWIV, TWIM, and TWIP) to be a perfect mix of entertaining and informative, and I’ve learned a huge amount from them.

4 Rahul November 16, 2012 at 2:33 am

If those were by Gilbert Strang, I loved them too.

5 dan richwine November 16, 2012 at 8:50 am

I like the online courses offered by Yale and the cd courses offered at the library, usually the modern scholar series. Better I think for history and literature for me who listens while driving, the lecture format works better.
There’s so many online courses you can just go to YouTube and type lecture with the subject you want and you’ll likely get some professor who has posted their lectures on the subject, allowing you to audit the course for free.

6 November 14, 2012 at 8:12 am

‘Productivity in education has lagged productivity in other sectors of the economy because teaching is so labor intensive.’

Shocking – amy other banal realities that bear repeating?

7 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 8:43 am

Repeat it until they fix it.

8 prior_approval November 14, 2012 at 9:20 am

Neither the general director of the Mecatus Center nor the reseach director of the Independent Institute (those proudly accepting tax breaks forever apparently have no intinsic interest in changing the staus quo – as witness the fact that the research director of the Indepentent Institute reserved the MR University domain 11 years before Charlie Team at inQbation brought it online after 1250 hours of billlable project time).#

Shannon-Weaver is the baseline for comprehensible transmission – no one has been able to violate its math till now, not even professors at a GMU department which has always been for sale to the highest bidder (source watch gives an accurate idea of how that works, by the way.)

9 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 9:59 am


10 Simone Simonini November 14, 2012 at 10:10 am

There is no teacher on Earth qualified to
teach Nature’s Harmonic Simultaneous 4-
Day Rotating Time Cube Creation Principle,
and therefore, there is no teacher on Earth
worthy of being called a certified teacher.

11 Bruce Cleaver November 14, 2012 at 10:51 am

What Simone said. All prior_approval is missing is MORE CAPS URGENTLY TYPED and the TIme Cube comparison is complete.

12 prior_approval November 14, 2012 at 1:45 pm

No need for caps – the information here is more than adequate, at least for anyone familiar with project managment –

MR University cost the Mercatus Center a solid 100,000 dollars at minimum – anyone care to speculate why the general director of the Mercatus Center (and most likely the reseach director of the Independent Insititute) felt this was a worthwhile investment of easily over $100,000 for ‘free’ education on the Web?

‘TANSTAAFL’ comes to mind.

13 Brian Donohue November 14, 2012 at 10:29 am

You do realize that your campaign, waged over several months on these boards, amounts to a great big ad hominen argument, delivered in the titillating style of a Hollywood gossip columnist, don’t you?

We get it.

14 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 11:41 am

I wouldn’t mind dealing with the actual argument. It’s my sickness.

One of the benefits of videos is re-watching. I have always been so ponderous that I miss half of a class thinking about the other half. This would have been a revelation to me.

15 prior_approval November 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Nope – it started with facts (that pre-registration was with a Mercatus Center e-mail), and ended with facts, including the fact that the project involved inQbation’s Charlie Team to the tune of 1250 man hours, all apparently paid for by the Mercatus Center, involving a bit more than a 4 dollar iPad app and a YouTube channel.

At no point I have accused either the general director of the Mercatus Center nor the research director of the Independent Institute of anything but representing their organizations, even if they seemingly are uninterested in the association. Unlike a man like Carnegie, to name one notable American interested in the free distribution of knowledge.

As a matter of fact, I expect at least the general director of the Mercatus Center to be meeting the performance goals his donors undoubtedly expect, as was certainly the case back when I worked for GMU. And as predicted, before the recent launch link made it obvious that MR University is a surprisingly well funded project, and not just a hobby of two tenured professors with too much time on their hands.

This is not ad hominem – this is eminently documented truth – or TANSTAAFL, for Heinlein fans.

16 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm

So what?

17 j r November 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm

PA, I’m not sure that you understand what ad hominem means.

Even if you’re right, so what? Why does it matter that MRU gets backing from the Mercatus Center. Mercatus is a think tank that advances market-friendly ideas. I suppose they might find that MRU is a market-friendly idea.

If I were to point out that some organization was funded by the Center for American Progress or by George Soros, that wouldn’t mean that I’ve proven anything nefarious. You’re comments are the equivalent of Glen Beck’s blackboard.

18 Rahul November 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm

What exactly does he have to do to get himself banned? I think we’ve seen that done a few times before. CBBB was annoying!

19 david November 14, 2012 at 8:12 am

Nitpick: Western academic teaching moved from purely scholastic repetition toward technologically-enabled lecture theatres plus tutorial groups, well before the proliferation of the personal computer or the internet.

The humble overhead projector slide was the first step down the long road of reproducible education.

20 Brock November 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I actually think that Gutenberg claims that title.

21 Enrique November 14, 2012 at 8:22 am

This is a very revealing admission: online education is really about improving the productivity levels of teachers — but this begs the question: is online education really an effective teaching tool without a classroom ?

22 john personna November 14, 2012 at 9:46 am

I got a chem degree in 1980 or there abouts. I went to work for a medical automation company, as a programmer. Over then next 30 years I re-educated myself on programming languages and paradigms. At first I used books, then books and on-line resources, then I stopped buying books. I think I’m the cohort driving this from the computer side. Hell yes, online education works. I made millions.

I agree with another commenter down-thread that anyone who wants to can “just do it,” but there seems to be a hurdle for people who haven’t yet, who don’t know they can. MOOCs seem to give them the structure they need. It would be interesting to know if MOOC graduates have more confidence for ad hoc learning going forward.

Ah well. My call as someone who was there thought the PC and Internet revolutions is that this looks like the same. This has critical mass. This will happen. It is, put bluntly, less BS than driverless cars and 3-d printers. If you don’t believe me, take a MOOC with good reputation. I’m in two now, dabbling out of curiosity. One is more finished than the other. Early days …

23 Enrique November 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Don’t get me wrong — I love these online courses — the first one I took was way back in 2008 (Ben Pollack’s game theory course on the Yale site) — and I also took Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun’s AI course last year as well as Nick Parlante’s computer science course on Course — all were excellent — but if I had to choose, I would still prefer the real deal over the imitation — for example, as good as Pollack’s game theory lectures were, I learned from by reading the transcriptions of his lectures and studying his handouts (and doing the problems)

24 The Original D November 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Just a guess, but I bet the difference between those who “just do it” and everyone else can be explained by Meyers-Briggs. I’m an INTJ and am very biased for action. Most J’s are. P’s? Not so much. They need to be led.

25 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm

“P’s? Not so much. They need to be led.”

Ha, I’d put it a little differently, maybe that that J’s can’t understand anything they don’t screw up personally.

26 Marian Kechlibar November 15, 2012 at 2:12 am

Well, programming definitely is one of the fields of expertise where almost all necessary skills can be acquired online and alone.

I am not that sure about chemistry you mentioned; access to an equipped lab seems to be important there.

On the other end of the axis seem to stand specializations as diverse as “actor” and “car mechanic”, which probably need not just equipment, but also intensive communication with older peers.

27 Brock November 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm


28 The Anti-Gnostic November 14, 2012 at 8:26 am

Productivity in education has lagged productivity in other sectors of the economy because teaching is so labor intensive.

No. Productivity in education has lagged because it is subsidized by government. It is one of the most feather-bedded industries in existence.

Come on, Tyler. Picking cotton is labor-intensive and we used to have gangs of slaves doing it. Now we send out one guy in a harvester.

29 msgkings November 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm

There’s no question that imparting knowledge and getting brains to work properly is EXACTLY the same as picking cotton. So your point about the government is both appropriate and unassailable.

30 The Anti-Gnostic November 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm

The larger point, Ace, is that labor-intensity is not the problem.

31 Emanuele November 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I am sure that government conspiracy play a role.
However I think there are other factors, like difficulty of building a better mechanical teacher versus easiness of building mechanical cotton picker.
Maybe I am wrong.

Other sectors where government conspiracy is playing a role are nannies, housemaids and barbershops. Those socialists that did not want a two-blade AI robot caring for their children when they are away and cutting his hair make me mad. Luddites!

32 The Anti-Gnostic November 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Schooling is too long, too expensive and has a huge administrative tail. Yours is the typical sperg-tripping-over-particulars response I anticipated.

33 doctorpat November 14, 2012 at 11:00 pm

So “sperg” is the new “gay” is it?

34 The Original D November 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm

What about private schools? Is Harvard more productive than UMass? Or do they just select for better students?

35 The Anti-Gnostic November 14, 2012 at 6:50 pm

The ROI for a Harvard degree is certainly better. As is apparent from this thread, the threshold issue is defining ‘productivity.’

36 albatross November 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm

So, can you point out some non-taxpayer-funded groups that do large-scale education successfully without it being labor intensive? Or even some taxpayer-funded people that manage that?

I can tell you that my kids’ Catholic school looks very much like the public schools, in terms of basic operations (one teacher teaching a classroom full of kids, some level of ability tracking, lots of homework and periodic tests to determine who needs more help, etc.). That sure looks labor-intensive to me. And Catholic high schools (where the education requires more expertise) are quite a bit more expensive than elementary schools, around here. These schools don’t get any government subsidies, but I’m not sure I’d want to claim that the Catholic Church is a model of agile, innovative management of its operations. either.

Homeschooling is an alternative way of getting kids to learn, but it seems much more labor intensive, and inherently not something that scales to larger groups of students. (Of course, that’s not really a problem, since hardly anyone is trying to homeschool 20 kids at once.)

Preschools are more about babysitting than education, but they’re also even more labor intensive than other schools. (You really don’t want just one adult in charge of 30 three-year-olds.)

Private test prep and private tutoring are, as far as I know, *more* labor intensive than normal school. That’s not subsidized, BTW.

So, if education is only expensive and labor-intensive because of government subsidies and involvement, where are the examples of large-scale education that is much cheaper and less labor-intensive?

37 albatross November 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm

As an aside, private schools have one other advantage–their students are selected for having parents willing to spend their own time and money to get them into the private school. One result is that the parents are typically helping their own kids learn, and are almost certainly applying some pressure toward getting the kids to do their homework and behave in school. But again, that seems like *more* labor intensive instead of less.

38 The Anti-Gnostic November 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Most of the population does not require institutional education for not less than 16 years of their life to do the majority of jobs out there. High-g individuals like Bill Gates don’t even need to complete college. Home-schooling, private tutors, MOS training, test prep, self study, apprenticeships are all more efficient models. There is a whole host of innovations that nobody will touch because of political considerations and legal strictures.

You seem to have anticipated my response with your qualifier of “large-scale” education, which is a modern, politically-driven phenomenon. We had the Renaissance without it.

Does anyone seriously believe that government funding increases efficiency, ROI or “productivity?” You obviously think otherwise, to the point of paying private school tuition in addition to property taxes. Getting back to my original example, did the Confederate government increase productivity by providing legal sanction to the importation of cheap labor?

39 Rahul November 14, 2012 at 8:37 am

Education Productivity = [# of students reached] x [Improvement per Student]

A spike in the first parameter is what online education is mostly about; but I don’t see almost any innovation in the latter parameter.

40 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

I do. In fact, that’s the bigger impact.

41 The Original D November 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm

In what way? The Internet has definitely been a huge improvement for the self-learner. But what’s the multiplier for institutional settings?

42 Brock November 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

If YOU don’t see it, it’s because you’re not paying attention. Khan Academy gets better results than one-to-one tutoring. They aren’t just improving on bad schools; they are improving on what’s possible.

43 JWatts November 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm

” Khan Academy gets better results than one-to-one tutoring.”

Is that statement supportable? I’ve heard it repeated, but what are the facts behind it?

44 Brock November 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Sal Khan makes the claim. They’re a typical data-intensive Silicon Valley start-up too, so I expect they have metrics to track that and show it. They’re funded by The Gates Foundation too, which is famously data-driven.

But no public data you can review yourself, if that’s what you mean. Their data is in-house. I sort of take their word for it though. Many of their key engineers are self-made millionaires from Google, Facebook, etc. They don’t need the work or to have their reputation ruined.

45 Rahul November 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Gates foundation funding is really not relevant to whether it is better than personal tutoring. No doubt Khan Academy is doing a great job but I’m with JWatts here: Data wins.

46 Tombo November 14, 2012 at 8:56 am

I believe the biggest bottleneck in education isn’t necessarily the teacher but the student. Put a good teacher in a below average class vs. an AP (or whatever you call it these days) class and the results will be so much better.

When digitizing the books, you aren’t really improving any efficiency except on the day the books are passed out. Login and account issues would make that a wash or pretty close.

Removing the physical aspects of the classroom and making it completely virtual just increases classroom size. You gain in the number of students, but you lose the one-on-one contact. Students who can self teach don’t really need efficiency anyway.

Any real breakthrough in education will require software that caters to the learning style of the student. Some students learn/retain best by lectures. Some students learn/retain best by visual graphs and charts. Some students learn better by reading text. Some students learn better by hands on exercise. Some students learn best by someone hovering them and forcing them to study, some students do it well on their own.

Students are far more interested in finding themselves and being cool than learning. Until you change that, you won’t change anything. As the old cliche goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

47 The Anti-Gnostic November 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm

The scaling of education simply would not have happened absent government intervention. There are plenty of people out there who would live happy, productive lives without the government setting an arbitrary minimum of a high school diploma so employers can shrug off their selection and training costs to the taxpayers. Now we have education inflation, as students race desperately to keep ahead of the government’s monkeying with the supply-demand curve. There is no justification for huge campuses of one-size-fits-all classroom instruction when the majority of people will never aspire to learning more than one, maybe two, particular trades that will get them the essentials of living.

48 msgkings November 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

A fair amount of commenters on this blog are pretty antagonistic to modern schooling of groups of children, and that’s fine, there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of room for improvement.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that kids have to be put somewhere supervised, unless you outlaw 2 parents working (and single parenthood), or outlaw having kids. In premodern times the kids were put to work themselves at a young age (on the farm or in shops or factories), and the most common arrangement was indeed 1 parent working.

In the modern world we can’t just homeschool every child. This isn’t a pro- or anti- government stance, maybe in the future all schooling will be ‘private’, but it will still be groups of kids with non-parental teachers in a classroom somewhere outside the home. And as always it won’t be about just ‘learning’, but about putting the kids somewhere safe while mom and dad work.

49 dead serious November 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

While improving teacher productivity – whatever that means – seems like a nice goal, I would think that the more important goal is to improve *student* productivity.

I’m not convinced that increasing class size to the nth degree, which is what this model proposes, is the solution toward reaching that goal.

Federalization vs centralization. I was under the impression that the authors and most followers of this blog wanted more of the former.

50 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 9:52 am

What is your political orientation?

51 dead serious November 14, 2012 at 10:18 am


Like most people on the internet, I’m a self-labeled social liberal and fiscal conservative.

52 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 11:18 am

I don’t understand the point about federalism.

If you improve measured teacher productivity you are nearly necessarily improving student productivity.

It is virtually standard to have 300 student classes in chemistry or physics and intro psychology among others.

I don’t understand what people think students are getting in 100 person classes they don’t get in 300 person classes or million person classes. The classroom feel maybe. But anything individual drops off rather quickly. I don’t assume my kid in daycare gets much personal attention. But you’d get more one-on-one if all the presentation was handled by robots.

People seem to be resisting an oversell that I don’t perceive.

53 dead serious November 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I’m not resistant to this – I just don’t see it as a cure-all solution and, as I stated, I don’t think the goal ought to be to maximize teacher productivity. The goal ought to be to maximize student productivity. I would fare well with this model but I know plenty of people – very bright and otherwise – who wouldn’t.

The point about federalism vs centralization is that MOOCs place more power – the platform to influence minds – into the hands of the few(er). MOOCs also promote a one-size-fits-all centralized model that libertarians and conservatives tend to dislike. Perhaps I’m extrapolating too far, but in spirit this model runs counter to federalization/localization (norms, customs, laws).

54 Andrew' November 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I guess two people look at the same coin and see heads or tails.

I figure Chemistry 101 is going to happen. So, there aren’t going to be 5 people in the class. So, if there are 300, there might as well be 3 million. And much of this can be taught prior to college. And the issue of Summer schooling? Gone. Do it if you want.

This frees up thousands of those teachers to teach more specialized Chemistry classes all the way up the food chain.

55 Peter A November 14, 2012 at 9:33 am

“the education sector, perhaps the most important sector of the 21st century economy.”

No, the “education sector” is a gigantic fraud. Smart people already have access to all the materials and educators they need. In the US there is no room for expansion of the market – anyone with the aptitude to learn algebra, calculus, physics, history, creative writing, Mandarin, etc. already has access to those subjects. There are very few people who can master those materials, are motivated to learn but don’t have access to them. To me this sounds like another scam to delude peope with little academic aptitude that if they pay for these online courses suddenly their brains will magically tune in.

56 Yancey Ward November 14, 2012 at 10:33 am


57 prior_approval November 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm

For Mandarin – use

As noted in the metafilter link – it is just another Pentagon boondoogle. (And yes, I have frineds who spent time in Monterey.)

58 j r November 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm

How exactly does one know in advance what one has the aptitude for?

59 The Anti-Gnostic November 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Aptitude testing, which would be outlawed at the slightest sign of disparate impact.

60 Saturos November 14, 2012 at 10:50 am
61 axa November 14, 2012 at 11:32 am

Alex is pretty naive when considers the leverage of teachers one of the advances of online education. Guess what? Gutenberg did it first. When I read a Math, History, Biology, etc………I’m learning from one of the best teachers available in the world. Alex mentions 700,000 views of youtube video, anyone has made an estimate of the average algebra book “views”?

Videos are a really inefficient way to convey information to an student. From my personal experience with online education; is that efficiency really matters you can learn by reading 5 minutes what it takes a professor to explain in a 10-15 min video. I wonder is there’s research comparing reading vs video learning efficiency.

But, the real advantage is not distributing boring videos perpetuating a system where the professor is the protagonist. The advance is creating a system where professors are not needed. Gutenberg initiated it, lets continue from there =).

I agree that Internet (online ed) makes book and scientific journals way more useful. Also Internet is great tool to find & learn things you were not looking for at first (lateral thinking). And of course you can reach more students, specially in poor countries. Online ed, also reduces commuting wasted time.

Alex proposal is more focused on self marketing (pay me for recording classes, I’m one of the elite professors) than proposing efficient ways to distribute knowledge with scientific research backup.

62 albatross November 15, 2012 at 1:14 pm

IME, the biggest advantages to online lectures are about student productivity:

a. If you don’t understand something, you can go back and watch it again.

b. If something is confusing to you, you can stop the lecture right there, look it up/work out what it means/ask someone, and then go back and finish the lecture.

c. The lecture never happens at an inconvenient time. You never have to stumble into an 8AM class, hung over and bedraggled, and try to get your brain wrapped around some complicated idea.

One advantage of a video over a textbook in math classes is that you can actually watch someone solve the problems. (An improvement would be to have more available workings-of-problems to watch for each kind of problem–say, I didn’t quite get that idea about finding the nullspace, show me another example.) Another advantage is that it’s often useful to be able to have the same thing explained several ways, in different formats. Have the same idea explained in the lecture, with a couple alternative ways to explain it linked, a different way in the book, and maybe you can go look up the idea in Wikipedia for yet another way.

63 axa November 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

As a student, I remember something that can lead to great savings and has nothing to do with online learning. Universities now are really hypocritical because they invest more or less resources in all the students. The guy who just want the bachelor title to get a job that requires it is taking the same class with the guy who wants to be a researcher.

In the name of marketing universities have expensive over-educated teachers for low level courses (undergrad). If students were separated between the ones that just want undergrad knowledge and the ones that are motivated for grad level education; lots of savings can be done. But, these situation implies recognizing an alpha and beta level education. Alpha education can stay as traditional education with the help of new technologies, while beta education can go crazy with MOOCs.

Universities prefer hypocrisy, all their students are “alphas”, no one wants to recognize they may not have the best. If someone just wants to be an accountant, do you really need a traditional university? If someone wants to do research on bio-technology, do you really want to change the traditional model?

64 R Richard Schweitzer November 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Perhaps due to the commonality of jargon terms such as “productivity” in economic studies, one should not be surprised by a term such as “the productivity of teaching.”

However, at the subject, post-secondary, academic level one might expect the emphasis to be upon the fomentation of learning, rather than on “teaching.”

We could then ask, “how can the processes of learning be made more ‘productive.’ ”

At the primary and secondary levels which are significantly concerned with acquainting the young with what information is “out there;” then, progressively developing abilities of perception and recognition of relationships of information, the processes are teaching. At certain levels of mental maturity, those are progressively replaced by learning. Presumably “productivity” in teaching would be observed in the effectiveness in the abilities gained by the young from the processes.

In the cases of post-econdary learning, the transmittal and fomenting functions of the academic interactions with students, we would probably find something quite different from “productivity” to define improvements.

65 Brock November 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm


Every commenter on this thread that equates MOOCs with “online video”, or says all the information is already available because of Wikipedia, is missing the absolute key detail of FEEDBACK. The key recent innovation of online education (as opposed to books or Wikipedia) is the constant tests and quizzes, and the data that the system collects from those quizzes.

What’s the difference between someone who takes a MOOC on economics, and someone who reads all the economics articles on Wikipedia? Two things. One, testing improves memorization rates, so the uptake rate of information is faster. Two, testing identifies the things the students didn’t understand the first time around, and teaches it to them again (and again) until they get it right. Only then do they move on.

So a MOOC student (as opposed to a self-taught student) has (1) better recall of information, and (2) fewer misunderstandings cluttering his brain. That’s a substantial improvement.


We know that students in a classroom learn faster than selt-taught students left with just the book. We also know that students with one-on-one tutoring learn faster than students in a classroom. Khan Academy is getting better results than one-on-one tutoring. Online education isn’t just improving the quality of outcomes; it’s moving the frontier of what’s possible.


The most innovative and cutting edge online education (which does not include MRU – sorry) are companies like Khan Academy and Knewton. They are using data science to build a complete profile of what the student knows. They are doing this so they can target the student with the exact lessons he/she needs to move on to the next level of knowledge. But a byproduct of this is that at any given time (say Tuesday, at 4:06 PM) they can print off exactly what the student knows down to the smallest detail, and how well they know it. (Basic, Competent, Advanced, Masterful, etc.)

As a side-effect, accreditation is meaningless. Who cares what classes they took when we already know what they know? It simply doesn’t matter if they learned Algebra at Harvard or their uncle’s basement. What matters is that they’re amazing at it. And Knewton can tell you whether that is the case or not.

66 Ryan November 16, 2012 at 4:07 pm

“We know that improving teacher productivity is very difficult, which is why teaching methods haven’t changed in millennia.”

Neither claim is substantiated, but the latter begs for, at least, qualification.

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