David Figlio Finds Video Lectures Don't Quite Measure Up for Student Learning

David Figlio

Do students learn more from video instruction or live instruction? Video may fall short, especially for some students, according to a recent research study led by SESP professor David Figlio.

An experiment by Figlio and his colleagues found evidence that students who watched video lectures instead of live lectures performed slightly worse in an introductory economics course. University students were randomly assigned either to watch video lectures on the Internet or attend these same lectures in person. All other aspects of the course remained the same for both groups of students.

A working paper newly released by the National Bureau of Economic Research reports the findings of this experimental study, "Is It Live or Is It Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Performance." Figlio completed the research with Mark Rush and Yu Lin of the University of Florida. 

The researchers not only found some evidence that live-only instruction is superior to Internet instruction. They also found these results were particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students and lower-achieving students.

"These students may well be disadvantaged by the movement to online education and, to the extent that it is the less selective institutions and community colleges that are most fully embracing online education, inadvertently they may be harming a significant portion of their student body," the researchers maintain. They indicate that more experimentation is needed before online education can be seen as equal to or better than live classroom instruction.

Their findings counter the conclusions of a recently released U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of the topic of Internet instruction in colleges and universities. This report, which favors online learning, is based mainly on non-experimental studies. According to Figlio and his colleagues, none of the studies cited in the Department of Education analysis included randomly assigned students taking a full-term course and compared live versus online delivery in equivalent settings.

The research findings have special importance since online course work is increasing rapidly in today's economic climate. Financial restraints are leading many universities to turn to online platforms for delivering instruction.

"The results of our experimental, apples-to-apples comparison indicate that a rush to online education may come at more of a cost than educators may suspect," say Figlio and his co-authors.

Read more in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Read more in Inside Higher Education.


By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 9/15/10