North America: Research – Reducing the cost of STEM education

April 16, 2020

North America: Research - Reducing the cost of STEM education

Equivalent results can be achieved through online learning which lowers the cost of STEM education

A research article was recently published in the Science Advances journal describing how the cost of STEM education for students could be reduced through following national online learning courses.  The researchers also found that students can achieve equivalent results by following online learning approaches, as opposed to attending bespoke university courses in person.  The shortage of STEM instructors coupled with the ever-increasing demand for STEM graduates were together cited as the primary drivers for this research.  The research also references the national courses currently being offered in China (XuetangX, WEMOOC, and CNMOOC), India (Swayam), and Russia [National Platform of Open Education (OpenEdu)].


Savings on instructor compensation


325 second year college students from three Russian universities were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups: a) in-person b) blended and c) online.

They followed courses within Russia’s Open Edu platform.

Students completed a questionnaire and pre-test.

At the end of the experiment all students completed a standardised exam and a questionnaire. 


There was very little difference between the results.

The students that completed the online course were less satisfied with the course than the students that followed either the in-person or blended courses.

The cost of STEM education could be lowered by delivering courses via national online education platforms.

Lowering costs could help address the global shortage of STEM instructors.


  • Igor Chirikov is a Senior Researcher in the Center for Studies in Higher Education team at the University of California.  He is the Director of the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium.
  • Tatiana Semenova is a Research Fellow at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.
  • Natalia Maloshonok is a Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.
  • Eric Bettinger is a Professor in the Stanford University School of Education.
  • Rene Kizilcec is an Assistant Professor in the School of Computing and Information Science works at Cornell University.  He leads research on the effectiveness of MOOCs and Learning Analytics.  Rene also directs the Future of Learning Lab project at Cornell University:

“…National online education platforms have the potential to address the shortage of resources and qualified STEM instructors by bringing cost savings for the economically distressed higher education institutions…” Chirikov et al, Science Advances, Vol. 6, no. 15