The Massive Open Online Courses in higher education that exploded in popularity and profile this year seem to be the perfect model of efficient education delivery: online courses delivered free or super-cheap by the world's best teachers from the world's best institutions, interactively and to hundreds of thousands of students, anywhere, any time.
But they are only more efficient than traditional face-to-face methods if students learn just as well or better from them.
Research to date provides little evidence to support strong arguments either way. A study by Ithaka S+R, a non-profit group seeking to aid digital transformation in education and publishing, compared interactive online learning with classroom delivery for 600 students in an introductory statistics course. It found no significant difference between them.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put $3 million into MOOC research projects. One question it seeks to answer is: for which students, disciplines and contexts are the courses more or less effective?
It is a good question, recognising the unreality behind dystopian visions of global-scale automated education delivery.
It is true the one-size-fits-all education model is on the way out. But we are heading for ''education ecosystems'' that deliver learning in multiple, hybrid and human ways so all-comers can learn better at various times in their lives more cheaply than is now possible.