Can Online Education Be Better Than Classroom Learning?


Photo credit: Elena Olivo
Copyright: NYU Photo Bureau

John Markoff, New York Times science writer, recently questioned the effectiveness of MOOCS (massive open online courses) in his article, “Measuring the Success of

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Online Education.” He explained that while large numbers of students are signing up for online courses, the number of students who actually finish a course is typically 10% or less.

Markoff pointed out that many MOOCs don’t necessarily improve upon traditional teaching methods. He indicated that there is an opportunity to offer more personalized feedback or adapt a lesson to a students’ individual needs. While critical of current MOOCs, Markoff optimistically noted that ultimately, there is an opportunity for online learning to exceed traditional learning in the classroom “with a learning structure that can’t be matched.”

Fred Wilson, VC and principal of Union Square Ventures, also questioned the effectiveness of MOOCs in a blog post this weekend. Fred pointed to the net native model, arguing that transferring something to the web is “not often the best way to build a business online.” MOOCs that simply transfer a lecture online and do not take advantage of technology to improve how a student learns, will ultimately be beat by a solution that optimizes courses for the internet.

Several leading edtech companies are creating solutions that are more complex than simply recording and transferring lessons online. For example, Knewton has created an adaptive learning platform that personalizes lessons based on a student’s unique strengths

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and weaknesses. Grockit has also built an adaptive learning platform that aims to make the online learning experience social and collaborative as well.

I agree with Fred Wilson that optimizing an education solution for the online space, rather than simply porting a lesson to the internet is the way to go. Any predictions for which edtech companies will come out on top?