Educational Equality

Online learning


Will widespread availability of Internet lectures mean that a few teaching superstars will rule the entire market? A new National Bureau of Economic Research study by economists Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David Laibson of Harvard, and John A. List of the University of Chicago concludes instead that "a major impact of web-based educational technologies will be [that] educational resources will be more equally distributed, and lower-skill teachers will benefit."

The economists conjecture that the spread of skilled lecturers equalizes students' educational opportunity, "especially between countries," and creates complementary demand for "one-on-one instruction provided by local teachers."

The study's authors note the "democratizing effect" of online education, reducing inequality of human capital across the globe. They do grant that some lower quality teachers will be outcompeted by Internet superstars.

The mathematical models in their paper convince the economists, though, that "positive complementarity effect[s]" will mean that "teachers with skill levels below a critical threshold will see their earnings increase" even in a world of web-based teaching stars available everywhere.

Thanks to the Internet's ability to spread high-quality teaching everywhere, they conclude, "Not only will human capital around the globe be enhanced, but human capital inequality may also decrease. At the same time, many (though not all) teachers will prosper."