Learning On-Line: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Continuing with Barack Obama’s theme of making access to college more affordable for more Americans, I decided to explore the issue of taking classes online. What’s good, what’s bad and what is downright unacceptable. My knee-jerk reaction had been that this type of vehicle is fine for some forms of CE and for “light learning” of the sort that I have done on Lynda.com.

Speaking as someone who has had to reinvent myself more than once, I have found on-line learning to be a mixed bag. Sometimes an online tutorial on a site like Lynda.com was all that I needed to move forward in an area where I was stuck.

Although Lynda.com is hardly a substitute for a university level course, its the only online training that I have any personal frame of reference with in the capacity of a student. Nevertheless, from that experience, I learned several things:

Learning styles need to be considered:

Lynda.com does a very professional job with their videos and I have learned to reference them easily when I need to. However, having a PDF to reference is good too. I found myself taking notes on notepad for quick reference. This comes down to learning styles. Some people use visual memory and like to see the words in front of them, some people use auditory more, others find the visual/audio combination most effective.

Motivation and Interaction:

On the bad side, most online classes have minimal interaction with peers and professors. Students miss the benefit of informal discussion and one on one with the professor. If online learning achieves what its supposed to by bringing more students online into the same course than can be handled in a traditional lecture series, one-on-one interaction with the lecturing professor or even a recitation instructor may well be impossible.

Unfortunately, for many students that one-on-one interaction with faculty and peers is really essential to motivation. I learned that first-hand. Doing online classes in photography was easy enough. Since I earn money as a real estate photographer and with some fine art sales, I was motivated by the need to learn quickly and to keep my customer base satisfied and happy.  With CSS and HTML, my motivation was more questionable and as the work became more advanced, I really had to push myself to keep going in that venue. It brought back memories of how we would teach each other as undergrads. We would compete, help each other, bounce ideas off each other and divide tasks to conquer areas that were a steep climb. It would be very difficult to replicate that experience online.

Better access to renowned academics:

On the up-side, such a system would open the doors of access to renowned academics whose lectures were previously available only to the favored few who were enrolled in the institution. Allowing students from different institutions access to a wide variety teachers and teaching styles can level the playing field for those who can’t afford a higher-end education at an elite school. It also gives students access to an unusually rich variety of teaching styles and points of view. This would not have been possible in the pre-internet age and is a definite plus.

It cancels out the issue o the adjunct who can’t speak english:

This has been one of the biggest problems that I’ve seen when large institutions out-source introductory classes to graduate students and post-docs. Many of these people do not have a strong enough foundation in the english language to lecture introductory students effectively. The results can be disastrous particularly students who tend to have an auditory learning style.

Things like “virtual labs” just need to go away:

As I pointed out in a previous blog, “virtual labs” or substituting the virtual for hands-on experience in any venue is a recipe for disaster.  there is no substitute for practical experience. You can not do a lab in virtual chemistry or virtual molecular biology and ever say its a substitute for the real thing. Period.

When done properly, online lecture series can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse. At the end of the day, the bottom line needs to focus on the effectiveness of the pedagogy. It should never be exclusively about the bottom line.

© 2013 – RGHicks – http://reinnovatingamerica.com

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