Online education and Conscientiousness

by gwern1 min read24th Feb 201210 comments

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Education
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I've wondered for some time now what the effects of online education might be on gender and income inequality, specifically as online education interacts with IQ and Conscientiousness (compared with offline education). I ran into a study of a course done online and offline that found correlations with Conscientiousness, which prompted me to start writing out my thoughts: https://plus.google.com/103530621949492999968/posts/aKa3qLatwZ3

The model/argument I give (towards the bottom) is logically trivial, and the basic idea seems pretty intuitive - offline classrooms remove some need for self-discipline/Conscientiousness and performance is more g-loaded - that I'm sure I can't be the first person to think of it.

Does anyone have statistics or citations handy which might help in any essay I write on the topic?

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[-][anonymous]9y 23

Wow, this was harder than expected. It's almost like the education theory people don't talk to psychologists. There were some studies that claimed to measure conscientiousness, but it wasn't apparently related to Conscientiousness, so who knows? Maybe they were measuring zombie!conscientiousness?

I trolled the obvious sources for thirty minutes and came up with:

  1. Kim, E., & Schniederjans, M. J. 2004. The role of personality characteristics in web-based distance education courses. Communications of the ACM 47(3):95–98.

  2. Schniederjans, M. J. & Kim, E. 2005. Relationship of student undergraduate personality characteristics in a total web-based environment: an empirical study. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education 3(2):205-221.

  3. Bassili, J. N. 2006. Promotion and prevention orientations in the choice to attend lectures or watch them online. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 22:444-455.

Good luck, brother. I hope other people have better luck.

I often wonder whether I should switch fields from physics to education, just because it seems so easy to make an impact.

[-][anonymous]9y 2

I'm not so sure. I think education theory in the neighborhood of being a diseased discipline. I don't know how many education breakthroughs make it through the peer-reviewed machinery into implementation unscathed, but given the overall stagnation in the field, it can't be that many.

I suspect you are right. But I wonder if the problem is that the experts add no value, or if the problem is that the true experts have a good idea of what should be done, but local politics prevents implementation. Obviously, for the second scenario to be plausible, we have to believe that lots of people labeled "expert" are not actually experts.

In short, is there anyone with rigorously supported proposals for improving the education system, but lost in the sea of quacks? Or is the entire field mindkilled?

In short, is there anyone with rigorously supported proposals for improving the education system, but lost in the sea of quacks?

Spaced repetition is very well supported and most studies have been in educational contexts: http://www.gwern.net/Spaced%20repetition#literature-review

But it is not used. Since it's more than a century old, this is not for lack of time. I agree with beoShaffer that existing education institutions are pretty dysfunctional. (Which is not to say that online education might not be a productive field! But I worry that all the current interest reads like a bubble - people have given up on green energy, so what's next on the list of liberal shibboleths...)

Spaced repetition is interesting, but I was under the impression that it was most helpful for improved memorization. I've always taken the criticism of the education system that it doesn't do a good job of making the material part of the student as the most important critique.

Is there such a thing as learning without any memorization? And there's little point in studying how it aids abstraction & conceptual understanding if you can't even get the schools to use it for learning English or foreign language vocab, for example.

Obviously, for the second scenario to be plausible, we have to believe that lots of people labeled "expert" are not actually experts.

To a certain extent yes, but from my understanding a lot of it is that the education industry got double helpings of rent-seeking and goodheart's law. For example in many districts unions make it effectively impossible to fire teachers once they have tenure(which is relatively easy to obtain at the k-12 level).
-edit also http://lesswrong.com/lw/le/lost_purposes/

I jailbroke those refs (except for #3 which is already online) for my first draft version of a full essay: http://www.gwern.net/Notes#conscientiousness-and-online-education

[-][anonymous]9y 0

The model/argument I give (towards the bottom) is logically trivial, and the basic idea seems pretty intuitive - offline classrooms remove some need for self-discipline/Conscientiousness and performance is more g-loaded - that I'm sure I can't be the first person to think of it.

Is that necessarily true? Who says classroom performance is only g and conscientiousness loaded? While on-line education may demand more conscientiousness, maybe it demands less of other attributes that traditional classrooms require. I must admit I'm relatively ignorant of the findings on various factors in regular classroom performance.

This is however an interesting question, I'm looking forward to the high quality gwern.net or LW article your research will produce on it. :)

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