Monday, December 3, 2012

In which economists delude themselves about their productivity

’ve been sitting on this post for awhile waiting for the negative energies that it assailed me with to abate but that hasn’t happened. Instead, I’ve decided to try ranting.

Productivity in education has lagged productivity in other sectors of the economy because teaching is so labor intensive. Where exactly in the typical classroom is there room for investment, let alone productivity improvement? More chalk? Prior to online education, the bottleneck through which productivity improvements had to pass was the teacher, and we know that improving teacher productivity is very difficult, which is why teaching methods haven’t changed in millennia. Online education vastly increases the potential for productivity increases because it greatly increases the size of the potential market.

I assume that average productivity is number of students taught divided by number of students taking the course. This concept, if it is indeed the concept of productivity seems absurd. It harks back to the time of the dot-com bubble when metrics such as ‘eyeballs’, pageviews and unique users were used to justify stock prices of companies.

Here a similar argument is being used to justify the superiority of MOOCs. (Another bad argument is here.) I’ll believe the productivity argument when average college tuition starts falling. Right now, it sounds a lot like an argument for continuing to pay these guys their six figure salaries (or even an argument for increasing their salaries).

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