Political Animal


October 20, 2012 7:11 AM Marginal Revolution University Update

By Ryan Cooper

I’ve been dutifully working my way through the first videos in the Marginal Revolution University course on development economics, and so far I’m rather pleased. The videos are quick, low-budget, and so far fairly skimpy on details, but they work fairly well nonetheless. Here’s a sample:

As a free, quick-and-dirty introduction, it’s about as good as I could realistically imagine. The one issue I’ve noticed so far is that the practice questions at the end of every course section are thus far absurdly easy. They’re simple, often fill-in-the-blank style, which can be easily answered correctly just by pattern matching without understanding.

However, the courses haven’t progressed very far past the overview stage, so perhaps they will become a little more extensive as things progress. In my experience learning difficult, technical questions requires grappling with lots of challenging questions, and furthermore the fear of failure and social stigma is a big part of keeping my hind end in the study chair. I’m curious to see if I can maintain the commitment if things get tricky. Another thing that has yet to really bloom is the social aspect of the project—so far I haven’t seen any videos made by others. But, like any good forum or social network, these things take time to build.

Overall, I remain optimistic about the project. I’ve so far learned a lot, even if I haven’t done many calculus problems.

(On a side note, those looking to have some kind of ideological impact on society should take a look at MRUniversity. On first blush it seems like a promising method, especially if done honestly and openly. You might not agree with Cowen and Tabarrok on everything—I certainly don’t—but they’re not hacks, and that makes their project far more effective, appealing, and useful. Just imagine Daily Caller University.)


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Walker on October 20, 2012 9:36 AM:

    This is a common critique with online material. They have done some pedagogical studies with Kahn academy showing that students think they learn a lot, but they actually do not compared to other educational videos:


  • Walker on October 20, 2012 9:43 AM:

    You might not agree with Cowen and Tabarrok on everything—I certainly don’t—but they’re not hacks,

    This is false. Cowen mixes hackish posts in between more sane ones. But at the end of the day he is another economist where ideology trumps empiricism. He has been called out on it several times.

  • bcamarda on October 20, 2012 6:40 PM:

    So nothing yet from Mr. Cowen about how "We need to accept the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor"?