One of the many changes that have been wrought in American society over the last twenty years by the rise of the Internet is the advent of e-learning. In times past, learning took place face-to-face, or face-to-book, at least. Now, technological advances allow students to take lessons from teachers half a world away, or for teachers to record lessons and then deliver them to students weeks later. This is often portrayed as an unqualified benefit, but it’s worth taking a minute to consider whether it is an unalloyed good or a complex change with both upsides and downsides.

A great example of e-learning at its best is the case of Battushig Myanganbayar, the “Genius of Ulan Batar.” A eighteen year-old Mongolian boy, Myanganbayar scored a perfect score in an online course offered by MIT at the age of 15, eventually earning him a spot at MIT, where he currently is studying. Battushig used e-learning to avail himself of opportunities that might otherwise never come his way. However, it required extraordinary discipline on his part, as well as immense natural talent.

A converse example is the case of “diploma mills.” While many reputable online schools exist that allow students to take courses remotely, there are also a plethora of fake or fraudulent institutions that offer degrees for “life experience” – always in exchange for a hefty fee. These schools are non-accredited and often try to fool students by posing as other institutions or claiming accreditation from nonexistent or fraudulent accrediting bodies. One unfortunate corollary consequence of the proliferation of diploma mills is that students receiving degrees from legitimate online schools find their diplomas tainted by these imposter degrees.

There’s no easy way to say if e-learning is good or bad, but at Ascent Tutors we believe that nothing compares to the value of face-to-face instruction. Technology can augment the human ability to teach and learn, but it can never replace it.