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Learning With Friends: A Rational View of Remote Learning with Network Externalities in the Time of Covid-19

Pena, Paul John and Lim, Dickson (2020): Learning With Friends: A Rational View of Remote Learning with Network Externalities in the Time of Covid-19. Published in: AKI Policy Brief , Vol. XIII, No. 5 (April 2020): pp. 1-4.

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The debate within academic communities on the effectiveness of distance learning has never been as colorful and polarizing as they are today when higher education institutions (HEIs) shift instruction from the physical classroom to online platforms during a global novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Strict social and physical distancing measures and the prolonged closure of schools aim to minimize the spread of Covid-19 carving a role for online learning as a solution to bridge the gap. Disparities in the access to high-speed internet, differences in devices used, and the environment in which both instruction and learning take place have led some to argue that the current conditions for online learning are not optimal nor inclusive. The psychological toll of living through a pandemic characterized by fear and anxiety further exacerbates learning conditions rendering attempts to bridge the gap unsurprisingly polarizing. To provide an economic basis for policies that encourage online learning amid this pandemic, we give an analytical and rational view of online learning. This brief presents the results of a theoretical exploration of learning with network externalities identifying optimal conditions that: (1) maximize returns to education, (2) grow the knowledge accumulated within a network, and (3) leverage the positive relationship between the size of the network and the wealth on knowledge accrued to learners. We provide a basis for the implementation of remote learning as a rational countermeasure to government policies that are likely to keep schools closed, supporting the argument that learning need not be quarantined, too.

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