Video Lectures May Slightly Hurt Student Performance

No clear winner emerges in the contest between video and live instruction, according to the findings of a recent study led by David N. Figlio, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University. The study found that students who watched lectures online instead of attending in-person classes performed slightly worse in the course over all.

A previous analysis by the U.S. Department of Education that examined existing research comparing online and live instruction favored online learning over purely in-person instruction, according to the working paper by Mr. Figlio and his colleagues, which was released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

But Mr. Figlio’s study contradicted those results, showing that live instruction benefits Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students in particular.

Colleges and universities that are turning to video lectures because of their institutions’ tight budgets may be doing those students a disservice, said Mark Rush, a professor of economics at the University of Florida and one of the working paper’s authors.

More research will be necessary, however, before any definite conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness of video lectures, said Lu Yin, a graduate student at the University of Florida who worked on the project. Future research could study the effectiveness of watching lectures online for topics other than microeconomics, which was the subject of the course evaluated in the study, Ms. Yin said.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 06/22 to more accurately characterize the research.

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