I've been following the development of online teaching with great interest.* Here are articles on how one guy started Khan Academy, how regulatory authorities have occasionally blocked this innovation, and some of the strengths and weaknesses of online instruction (i.e., it's not good for students who need instruction and have access to it).**
Anyway, you can check out how it works by spending 8 minutes watching this video that I made in response to the unit on water in developing countries at Marginal Revolution University.
In the lesson, I point out the big political and economic factors driving water (mis-)allocation that few people understand. Tell me what you think (here or in comments/questions there).
Click here to forward this video to people who need to learn more.
Bottom Line: Online education is going to make it easier for motivated students to learn from a larger variety of better instructors. Other students are likely to benefit indirectly, but nothing beats one-on-one teachers with passion.
* I taped and uploaded 28 videos from my UC Berkeley class on environmental economics and policy (with subtitles in 50 languages!). As of about now, they have an average of 17,000 views each -- the class had 85 students -- and over 480,000 views in total. I see that online "classes" are quite different -- my 80 minute lectures showed me talking; most online lectures have 3-5 minutes of slides.
** More depressing, Kling claims that eduction is only about the certificate (i.e., a signal of willingness to work hard or spend money employers look for as a sign that employees will be obedient), not curiosity or learning.