April 25, 2012

The New Face of Learning

I am currently teaching a course on Organizational Culture.  This course is taught through an online platform, Blackboard, asynchronously, which means as a class we do not all "meet" at the same time.

I recently had a discussion with some folks which is becoming more and more familiar--something to the effect of: "Do you really think the quality of education is as good if you don't meet face to face?".  To be honest, it is usually people of my generation (boomers) who are likely to question the value of online education.  However, it is certainly a fair question.

In my course, students have required readings, assignments, projects, papers and online discussions throughout the week.  I prepare and post "lectures" which are audio-narrated videos on the weekly course topics. I am available via email, phone or through the class online platform.  Actually, an online instructor is usually much more available to students given the 24/7 nature of the programs, which can be an issue if you have other things going on (like, lets say, LIFE).

I understand the concerns about this new way of teaching.  I see pros and cons.  On the one hand, I don't have an in-person presence and do not engage "in the moment" with students as a group. I can't SEE my students, though they do get to see me through periodic videotapes I provide.  On the other hand, this approach has benefits. The obvious one being that students come from around the globe, thus providing a diversity of perspectives to the class. Also, the discussions require all students to engage in text-based dialogue related to the weekly topics. No one can sit and hide in the back of the class and it seems particularly helpful for the introvert or highly reflective person. I see myself as more of a facilitator of learning, rather than the sole expert. Yes, I do provide content expertise on the subject matter; but I am also very aware of, and draw from,  the expertise of others in the class, who in this case are seasoned working professionals obtaining a Doctorate of Education.

Virtual learning raises many questions regarding Education. Most importantly, we need to ask: What is our goal? Is it teaching specific content? Connecting with others? Having access to the experts? Entertainment through funny lectures? The emotional experience of in-person engagement and relationships? Learning to learn? Learning HOW to find the right information? Individualized vs. group learning? Learning to master tests? These are a few questions that come to mind.

Online learning is here to stay. In my opinion it will never completely replace in-person learning and that is a good thing. But there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each modality--virtual vs. live--and rather than ask which is better, we will accomplish more by matching the learning approach to the situation at hand.

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