The infinite lecture hall model

This is a really helpful account in Martin Weller’s 25 Years of Ed Tech about the enduring appeal of online education to university managers. The powerful vision of the ‘infinite lecture hall model’, in which provision can be scaled indefinitely to a vast distributed audience, promises a revolution in the economics of education. However it’s predicated upon a vision of education as content-dissemination which tends to squeeze out the more reliable, if costly, capacity to facilitate distanced dialogue through online education. From pg 22-23:

If the benefit of the web was the removal of barriers to broadcast and publishing, then CMC delivered the ability to collaborate at a distance. This is arguably more powerful in education than the democratization of broadcast, but it also gets to the heart of different views about education. The use of the web to disseminate information cheaply to a mass audience was represented by what can be termed the “infinite lecture hall” model, whereby large numbers of students could be taught relatively cheaply, because the cost of delivering content to 10,000 students was largely the same as delivering it to 10 students if it was based around a broadcast model. The use of the Internet to facilitate collaboration and discussion in groups at a distance emphasizes a more student focused, less industrial model. In such a model, there is more dialogue between students, but this requires moderation and support. Student dialogue forms a much greater part of these courses—in a conventional course, the educator accounts for approximately 80% of the dialogue, whereas CMC structured courses have only 10–15% of dialogue attributable to the educator (Jonassen, Davidson, Collins, Campbell, & Haag, 1995). Therefore, this student exchange cannot be “captured” beforehand in the way a conventional lecture can but needs to be facilitated during the course itself.

There’s no cost saving with this model because tutors need to increase in line with students numbers. It can’t be captured and reproduced at zero marginal cost, in contrast to a recorded lecture which can be shared endlessly once it has been recorded.