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.