In-Person Versus Online Instruction: Evidence from Principles of Economics


COVID-19 required many professors to switch from in-person teaching to online instruction, allowing exploration of a pivotal question in education: are learning outcomes better when instruction takes place in-person or online? We compare student performance across two semesters of the same large introductory economics course—one taught in-person in 2019, the other taught online in 2020. We analyze test scores from over 2000 students for exam questions common to both instructional formats. At the aggregate level, we find no difference in student performance between online and in-person instruction. When dividing questions by required reasoning skills, we find that online instruction improves student performance on questions requiring knowledge of a definition or formula. Additionally, student course evaluations rated the online course over in-person pedagogy.