Is It Live or Is It Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning

David Figlio
Mark Rush
Lu Yin


This article presents the first experimental evidence on the effects of live versus Internet media of instruction. Students in a large introductory microeconomics course at a major research university were randomly assigned to live lectures versus watching these same lectures in an Internet setting where all other factors e.g., instruction, supplemental materials were the same. We find modest evidence that live-only instruction dominates Internet instruction. These results are particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students. We also provide suggestions for future experimentation in other settings.



Students were randomly assigned to either an online or a live section of a course taught by one instructor and for which the ancillaries for the class, such as the web page, problem sets, and TA support, as well as the exams, were identical between the sections. The only difference between these sections is the method of delivery of the lectures: some students viewed the lectures live, as would be the case in traditional classes, while other students viewed the lectures on the Internet. a large principles of
microeconomics class taught at a large selective doctorate-granting university.
This class is taught to between 1,600 and 2,600 students a semester by
a single instructor. Typically, the students can register for a “live” section in
which they can watch the lecture in a room with approximately 190 seats
or they can register for an “online” section in which they watch the same
lecture online. 97- in person and 112 online students were in the study While the overall effect of live instruction relative to Internet delivery
is very modest and positive though not statistically distinguishable from
zero in the unconditional mean comparisons, these mean effects may mask
substantial differences in relative benefits of one medium of instruction over
another. For instance, students from different language backgrounds, experience,
or motivation levels might have different experiences in live versus
Internet-only settings. This article presents the first experimental evidence of the relative efficacy of live versus Internet-only instruction in a higher education setting.

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