National online education platforms could make STEM degrees more affordable, Russia-based study shows
Online education platforms scale college STEM instruction with equivalent learning outcomes at lower cost
An online education model in Russia in which national platforms license STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses from top universities to institutions with instructor shortages could significantly lower instruction costs, allowing resource-constrained universities to enroll more STEM students, according to a new study. “Investments in online education programs could also strengthen instructional resilience of colleges when in-person delivery is not an option, such as right now, when most of the US colleges are closed to mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak,” says Igor Chirikov, the lead researcher on the study. Chirikov and colleagues found that exam scores remained relatively unchanged based on the form of instruction, although students who took fully online classes reported being slightly less satisfied with their courses than in-person students or those who took courses in a blended format. Universities around the world (and particularly in China, India, Russia, and the U.S.) are working to improve access to STEM degrees – a challenging goal when STEM programs are costlier than programs in other fields. To test an affordable approach to this challenge, Chirikov et al. randomly assigned 325 second-year college students from three Russian universities to take Engineering Mechanics (EM) and Construction Materials Technology (CMT) courses either fully online, fully in-person, or with online lectures and in-person discussion sections. The researchers then estimated how the online and blended formats could reduce per-student instruction costs for 129 Russian universities, finding blended instruction lowers the per-student cost by 19.2% for EM and 15.4% for CMT, while fully online instruction lowers costs by 80.9% for EM and 79.1% for CMT. These savings would allow universities to teach 3.4% more EM students and 2.5% more CMT students through blended instruction or 18.2% more EM and 15% more CMT students through online instruction.