Thursday, September 2, 2010

There's No Replacement for Online Learning...An argument reversed

By Mark T. Burke

For those of us in online education, a phrase often heard is "There's nothing like live instruction."  Variations include, "There's nothing like a live classroom,", and "There's nothing like being taught by a live teacher."  This perfectly aimed comment puts the entire online education world on the defensive.  On more than one occasion, I've jumped head-strong into a list of pros, spouting off in defense of online education. I am certain my ears turned red and my eyes bulged to the point of popping out during more than one of my soap box speeches.

Online instruction has earned a place in the educational world, and it's time to recognize there is no longer a place for the "which is better, live or online" argument.  In fact, just to make sure I'm NOT coming across as being against live instruction, I'll respond to the comment, "There's nothing like live instruction."

My response: "That's right. There is nothing like live instruction.  As humans, close, personal contact with mentors and teachers creates a powerful learning experience.  When we can see our teacher's eyes, absorb their energy through their body movement, facial expressions and the sound of their voice, learning is an incredible experience.  No, nothing can replace that and nothing should."  
 Hopefully that clears up my stance on face-to-face learning.  Now on to online.

"There's no replacement for online learning."

My response: "That's right. Online instruction is all about providing education that is learner focused in terms of content, location, timing and breadth. Online education provides the environment where learning can occur in the here and now.  There is nothing like the feeling of opening a laptop and finding answers to question, interacting with experts, reviewing past work as well as future assignments when and where I want. Being empowered to control my education, is AWESOME."
We could easily start to list pros and cons of each, but why?.  Providing the best education for everyone is about learning from the cons and providing solutions.  Online providers have learned from 100's of years of face-to-face instructional best practices and face to face schools have started integrating online learning to help them meet their challenges.  I believe we are (and must) turn the corner on the debated value of online learning.  Doing so starts with each of us and how we think and communicate the values of both. I no longer get defensive when I hear the phrase, "There's nothing like live instruction."  That's right and "There's nothing like online learning."  


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