Teaching vs. Learning

November 15, 2012

Alex Tabarrok holds the Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at George Mason University, and, with Tyler Cowen, writes the influential and entertaining economics blog Marginal Revolution.  He’s recently written a piece for the Cato Institute on “Why Online Education Works.” Note the title, watch the sleight of hand.

Here’s the central nugget: “In 2009, I gave a TED talk on the economics of growth. Since then my 15 minute talk has been watched nearly 700,000 times. That is far fewer views than the most-watched TED talk, Ken Robinson’s 2006 talk on how schools kill creativity, which has been watched some 26 million times. Nonetheless, the 15 minutes of teaching I did at TED dominates my entire teaching career: 700,000 views at 15 minutes each is equivalent to 175,000 student-hours of teaching, more than I have taught in my entire offline career. Moreover, the ratio is likely to grow because my online views are increasing at a faster rate than my offline students.”  And note the accompanying graphic.

But does this teaching “work?” That’s the claim of the title.  To say this online teaching works would be to say there was meaningful learning, not just numerous page views.  And about that, Alex Tabarrok has nothing to say.

I don’t know whether Tabarrok is right or wrong about his claim that “online education works.” But I do know that support for the cl;aim is going to have to come from evidence about whether students are learning, not about how many people are watching Tabarrok or anyone else online.  Teaching is facilitating the learning of others.  It is not what you do by yourself.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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