The Case for Online Education (HuffPo)

Mattan Griffel 

The honeymoon is over. People are writing about how online education will neverreplace offline education. I’d like to challenge that view: Not only will online education eventually be as good as offline education, it will be better.

Saying that online education will never be as good as offline (because it’s not currently as good) is like taking one look at a Model T, saying that it’s unsafe, and urging everyone to switch back to horses.

The reason online classes will eventually be better than offline classes is simple:

We can measure and respond to students’ behavior much more easily and quickly when education is digital than when it is analog.

On the other hand, what makes for a good teacher in a classroom setting? A good teacher is someone who can:

  • Come up with compelling content that explains complicated topics,
  • Take in a lot of information about how students are responding to that content,
  • Quickly adjust the style based on that information quickly.

A good teacher can see the look in a student’s eyes and tell immediately whether a particular topic is resonating or not. He or she has the ability to reiterate a point and respond to questions in real time. That’s what we mean when we say that an in-person classroom experience is more “personal” – and it’s hard to imagine online education being able to match that anytime soon.

But let’s suspend disbelief for a second. In theory, a computer can take in vastly more information than a human can and respond to it much faster. According to Scientific American, two years ago the fastest computer could store almost ten time as much data as the human brain and process it almost four times as fast.

Companies in the online education space are not currently taking advantage of even a fraction of the data that they could be.

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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