Online learning: the ruin of education?

A soapbox at Occupy Boston

A soapbox at Occupy Boston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A LinkedIn group discussion (may need to join the Technology in Education group to view) alerted me to a recent Huffington Post article by a 17-year-old who “had the horrific opportunity to experience online learning for a few weeks.” He thus decided to generalize those few weeks to a rant about all online education, including “Any school that uses online learning systems should not be called a school.”

I decided to share the response that I posted to the LinkedIn discussion here, as this is a fundamental tenet of my educational philosophy, and will undoubtedly continue to be revisited on this blog in various ways:

Design matters.
Interaction matters.

Poorly designed classroom-based education with little interaction is not likely to stimulate significant learning. And the same is true for poorly designed online education with little interaction.

The young author of the original article experienced what sounds like a rather lame online learning environment. It is unfortunate that he has made the decision that all online learning is therefore terrible and inferior to other educational approaches. “Online” is not the variable that made his experience bad.

Insisting “online learning is great” or “blended is best” or “in-person education is always superior” does a disservice to the bottom line of what determines the quality of an educational endeavor: the design of that endeavor.

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4 thoughts on “Online learning: the ruin of education?

  1. Thank you for you post Jim. This resonantes with me so much lately. It is dissapointing that this student encountered a less than helpful course, but I agree that to condemn or glorify all online teaching as worthless or the “only way” is very short sighted. We have all probably experienced very poor face to face courses as well, yet they are not all condemned or deified. It seems much more common to read complaints about courses rather than praise. Maybe it is human nature to quickly point out flaws but forget to point out the positives.

    • Thanks, Jean. I think it’s also human nature to attribute causality without more deeply considering alternative explanations. When it comes to discussion about online education, there are so many unquestioned assumptions (about technology, pedagogy, teachers, learners, institutions, culture, etc) that lie behind so many perspectives.

  2. In addition to design of the class, there is the approach of the student. I don’t think enough consideration is being given to the expectations and effort needed to succeed online, and I wonder whether the increasing dependence of the culture on non-interactive media, or media which is only interactive as a game or for “fun” (think iPad), isn’t creating an expectation on the part of the student that an online course should require little cognitive effort. Still working on thinking this out…

  3. Pingback: How Generation ‘C’ will change Education… forever » Rufr's blogg

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