The cost of education

I received an email from a doc student asking me to comment on the cost of education. This really started me thinking about how we measure “cost” so thought I would share my response here.  I’ve included his email and my response below.


Professor Rice,

I enjoyed reading your article published in “Educational Technology & Society, 12 (3), 163–177.” Do you consider that educational cost will likely decrease because of greater e-education? I would like to use your response for my working dissertation, if you were to be so kind as to reply. I would like to show that technological advancements for e-education will rely on collaboration and the sharing of resources to control cost. I currently am a student at Thomas Edison State College, New Jersey, studying to become a teacher as a new career.


My response….

First – I think the question you ask is somewhat leading. It might better be asked in a more objective way – “How will the continued growth in elearning impact the cost of education?” – or something like that. (This is the teacher in me  and just can’t be helped.)

The simple answer to your question is yes but probably not for the reasons you think. Yes, open source content and software will cause a reduction in the monetary cost of  technologies used in education. In my opinion, this is really beside the point. I prefer not to look at cost as an isolated economic consideration. Cost can be thought of in ways other than money. For example, what is the cost (or value added) to human potential through the movement to elearning? What is the cost (or value added) to human potential if we choose not to embrace elearning as a viable educational alternative? One way to look at it is to think in terms of “relative advantage”. This is a term that Peggy Roblyer uses in her book Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (2006; 2010). Essentially, it means; is there an advantage in one way of doing something, relatively speaking, over another. She uses the term as a way to help teachers determine if the use of technology (whatever it happens to be) provides added value over a traditional way of teaching. The same way of thinking can be applied to elearning. Is there a relative advantage to elearning environments over traditional educational environments? When thinking about relative advantage, I think it’s critical that the discussion includes all forms of value and cost. Money, certainly, but also learning outcomes, affective outcomes, parent satisfaction, etc. In addition, what are the affordances (value-added) of elearning that we simply cannot replicate in face-to-face environments (costs). These include the unmatched opportunities in data collection and analysis of learner behaviors, extended learning times of blended environments, and the movement to individualized learning environments. It also must take into consideration some of the disadvantages of elearning environments (costs) that are mitigated in traditional environments (value-added) – isolation, lack of interaction with the instructor, delayed feedback, etc. Weighing all of these elements is the only way to discern a meaningful answer to your question.