Online Teaching versus the Traditional Classroom: Which Is Better?
The Importance of Education for All Cannot Be Denied
When one stops and thinks about it, human learning can, and does, occur in a wide variety of settings and through a diverse range of educational methods. Human beings of all ages have always learned from friends and relatives as well as from experts in the larger community. From a mother teaching her daughter to cook and clean, to a father teaching his son to carve a tool, to a shaman teaching an acolyte songs and herb lore, humans have always guided each other to learn and grow. Learning can happen anywhere; it is not restricted to a special building with blackboards (or today’s whiteboards) and rows of desks.
Human beings are each ultimately responsible for learning and growing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Ideally, each person should develop fully, maturing internally and externally, becoming capable of functioning successfully in the natural world and of loving unselfishly. Arguably, in a healthy society, humans help each other grow to this extent, both within birth families and in the larger society, through peer guidance, mentoring, and formal education. With the above-stated goals, America has developed a system of public (and private) education, which at this time is available to all people, from preschool-aged children to seniors.
Although America’s public education system is imperfect in many ways, it has existed for over a century as an example of systematized education for all. One might suggest that all countries would benefit from mandating formal education for all citizens from youth until at least physical maturity. The potential benefits (both social and intellectual) of public education make it an essential feature of a responsible society.
Surely an educated, well-socialized society is preferable to one whose inhabitants are intellectually ignorant and inexperienced in relating to human beings different from themselves. Choosing the second option above would only increase the likelihood of greater human error, hatred, fear, and destructiveness. Education is not only about gaining intellectual power; it helps human beings to be the best people we possibly can be on every level, to learn from our historical mistakes, and to understand (and thus relate constructively to) the larger world around us. Assuming then that education for all is a priority, what is the better method of learning, in ground schools or online? As an experienced teacher both online and in the traditional classroom, one who loves teaching students online and is grateful for the many deep experiences I've had in the online classroom, and having also taken both online and ground classes as a student, let me share some thoughts on this topic.
From You Tube: About the Profound Educational Ideas of John Dewey
A View from PBS
- SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education
A companion website to the PBS documentary series, SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education
Successful Online Education Requires Excellent Management of One's Resources
Have You Taken an Online Class?
Organization, Interpersonal, Reading, and Writing Skills Are Needed for Online Classes
Online education is very different from education in a traditional classroom setting. One main difference is the supreme importance of independent individual responsibility and organization to the online student. Of course, students in a traditional classroom also need to be organized and manage their resources well. Students who ignore or misplace their class requirements and materials and who fail to complete assignments and attend class regularly will have trouble succeeding in any type of class, online or traditional.
However, online students must take much more independent responsibility than students in ground classes if they are to achieve the same level of learning. Online students must manage the given information, which is often extensive and for the most part, is written. They must keep their materials clearly organized, ideally in separate online folders for each class and for each assignment. They must access the class calendar and make sure to understand and meet every posted deadline. They must attend online class by regularly posting quality contributions to the class’s collaborative discussions as well as posting their individual assignments—quite a contrast to the traditional classroom, where students attend class but are often allowed to remain silent during class meetings all semester, although arguably, contributing to the discussion is just as important in a ground class as online.
The student who depends on his/her teacher to clarify the assignments, deadlines, and the overall material can easily fall behind in an online class unless that student makes a strong effort to interact personally with the online teacher, by email or even phone or Skype. One might say that is equally true for the ground class. However, in ground schools, many students manage to “catch up” despite incomplete focus and participation by going to their teachers outside of class and working together in person. This strategy is much harder to implement online, where missing one or two classes or assignments can make a big difference in one’s understanding and one’s grade. The online student needs to be focused, pro-active, and personally responsible for his/her learning from day one; a lesser effort will result in confusion and frustration and is much harder to remedy when the student him/herself must backtrack and review the material independently.
For the organized, motivated, mature student who knows the value of seeking help when needed from his/her instructor and for an independent learner of any age who reads and writes competently, online class is likely to be less difficult than for a young person who is used to direct, in-person guidance and support and for those students who dislike or struggle with reading and writing.
There's Something Magical about Reading Real Books in a Beautiful University Library
The Engaged Student Learns More Easily
Engagement with the class, the instructor, and the material are essential building blocks for student learning. However, it is often difficult for online students to make a strong connection to the teacher and the class. When learning online, although one can call or email one’s instructor for guidance, although online classes often feature discussions and chat rooms, although instructors generally post extensive personal guidance, and although the course materials are usually easily accessible, students nonetheless often feel cut off from the instructor, the course material, and the rest of the class.
It can be difficult for students to understand written material (for a variety of reasons, including cultural and language barriers and poor reading skills), and all too often, students do not take the initiative to seek clarification. They try to figure out what is required of them, but often feel lost and confused. At this point, it is often hard for the online student to reach out to his/her instructor for clarification, and even if the student takes that step, it can be hard for him/her to understand the teacher and the material when in-person contact with the teacher is missing. Many students learn more easily with the in-person support of a teacher’s voice, facial expressions, body language, and more. Online guidance and feedback can seem impersonal and cold and can be easily misinterpreted, especially if a student is not comfortable with reading and writing.
Regular, whole class meetings in the physical classroom; one-on-one, in-person collaborations between students and their teachers; and in-person interaction between students inside and outside the classroom offer extensive opportunities for asking questions and getting help with understanding and completing one’s lessons. Listening to a live, in-class discussion, as well as live lectures, where one can hear the voices of one’s instructor and classmates and see their body language and facial expressions, as well as interact in-person in real time, are prime situations for learning. The sensory quality of in-person experience is much greater than that achieved online or through any presently available media--and perhaps that will always be the case, no matter how advanced technology becomes. Certainly most current online classrooms, despite collaborative written discussions and use of group audio/video sessions, have very far to go before they can approach the advantage of real live meetings, of working together in person.
Below, in this Hub, readers will find links to interesting innovations including the TED-Ed series, Tech2Learn at Edutopia , and even Ricci Adams' excellent online music theory site (which the author used to great advantage). It is conceivable that human beings could someday make magnificent and powerful learning experiences using non-traditional and technological methods, such as Star Trek 's holodecks (see video link, below) the norm. The most advanced online or non-traditional methods of education may well supplement the in-person educational experience; however, learning directly, in person and using one's physical senses, provides the most powerful learning experience.
When creating learning experiences alternative to the traditional classroom, let us hope that in addition to considering the potential savings online education offers, we remember the crucial purpose of education: to help all individuals fully develop mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, to be the best possible people they can be. Let us not short ourselves in this process, when thoughtful investment can help us create a better world.
Remember the Holodeck? Here Is a clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation, via You Tube
Ricci Adams' Fantastic Online Music Theory Site!
Tech2Learn Series on Edutopia.org--Amazing!
- Tech2Learn: Success Stories of Technology Integration in the Classroom | Edutopia
This video series goes inside the classrooms of educators who use technology tools in their lessons every day. Learn from their challenges, celebrate their successes, and share their resources in every episode. Bookmark this page for upcoming episode
TED-Ed Is an Example of Creative Use of Media in Education
- TED-Ed - YouTube
TED-Ed is TED's new education initiative.
An Exciting Program Using New Media in Education
- Animating Dreams: The ACME Animation Program - YouTube
You can find more tips on how to use new media tools in your classroom at our Edutopia site: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-new-media-classroom-tips