Students learned just as much in online STEM college courses as they did in traditional classroom settings, and at a fraction of the cost, according to a first-of-its-kind study.
The study tracked more than 300 students in Russia, where top universities standardize online classes for use by institutions with fewer resources. It has important implications for the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math -- skills that are in high demand by the international workforce, said Rene Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science at Cornell University.
"Demand for higher education is surging in the digital economy we now live in, but the price of a college education has ballooned and we don't have enough people to teach these courses, especially in more rural areas," said Kizilcec, co-author of "Online Education Platforms Scale College STEM Instruction With Equivalent Outcomes at Lower Cost," which published April 8 in Science Advances. "This new study offers the best available evidence to judge whether online learning can address issues of cost and instructor shortages, showing that it can deliver the same learning outcomes that we're used to, but at a much lower cost."
These online courses cost institutions 80% less per student than in-person classes, the study found, while blended classes combining online lectures with in-person discussions lowered the per-student cost by nearly 20%.