Stop Blaming Technology for a Lack of Personal Connection


graphic by zen Sutherland

When I came across Matt Miller’s blog “What Online Learning Can’t Do: Why Face-to-Face Reigns” I was expecting the usual sentiments about elearning failing to measure up to traditional classrooms when it comes to interaction and engagement, or maybe even the age-old “quality of education” argument. Instead, I was surprised to read the heart of Matt’s sentiment was based upon personal connection, noticing a new haircut, high-fiving student after an achievement, etc.

It is true that these connections can be lost in the online environment. But, if we’re honest, we would have to admit that these connections could also be absent from face-to-face learning environments as well. The idea that there is no possible way that human connections – personal, meaningful, and valuable connections – can be established, fostered, and grown online is shortsighted.

If this were an impossibility TV shows like MTV’s Catfish wouldn’t exist and online dating sites wouldn’t be cropping up everywhere. It is possible to make very personal connections online; it just takes a different kind of effort.

The challenge of online learning is that too many instructors believe that their face-to-face instructional approaches are sufficient for the online environment. To be an effective online instructor – to foster student-student, student-content, and student-instructor relationships – one must toss out old instructional approaches.

Technology is simply a tool, not the replacement for the instructor. Every instructor is a subject matter expert – online or on-campus. If you expect technology to replace the facilitation, sharing, exchange that takes place in a learning environment, then you’re mistaken. If a car crashes, do you blame the car if the driver falls asleep at the wheel?

Technology is a tool and, when used by a skilled instructor, it can help to facilitate effective learning outcomes and personal relationships.


2 thoughts on “Stop Blaming Technology for a Lack of Personal Connection

  1. Sarah —

    Your point is exactly right. Good teaching is good teaching. A great teacher can add technology to a course or go totally online and the experience can be the same or better. But a bad teacher can’t just add technology to improve his class. Rather, there’s a good chance it gets worse if he doesn’t have his focus on the foundations of what would make his class great — sound teaching, quality relationships and relevant connections between content and the real world.

    I believe that the truest, most powerful interaction between humans is face to face. It can be simulated — and sometimes quite well — online, through text and even through video chat. But it is definitely quicker, more powerful and more meaningful in person. I hope we never lose sight of that in education and in our own personal lives.

    Thanks, Sarah, for the opportunity to reflect on this even more deeply. I’ve enjoyed it.


    • Matt,

      Thanks for sharing more about your thoughts on this topic.

      Technology often is unfairly dubbed the savior or culprit in the classroom, depending upon your point of view. In reality it is simply a tool – perhaps a game changing tool – but a tool nonetheless. When used innovatively it can have a profound impact on the learning experience. However, not every teacher, not even a “good” one, may know how to effectively use technology to offer engaging curriculum. Technology as a tool requires educators to deviate from the path they have been traveling for years, even decades.

      Investing the time and learning the skills to use technology to enhance the learning experience is important. A part of that training and skill acquisition should be the ability to connect with people in an online format. Often overlooked, it is one of the most valuable technology skills anyone could ever have.

      Thank you for engaging me in this conversation; I think we agree that there is work to be done and a great deal of talent available to do it.


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