Nancy Scofield’s education blog

Musings of a Middle-aged Edu-Geek

Online vs. traditional learning

Posted by nancyscofield on June 3, 2008

Our school district is going to a one-to-one laptop initiative for all high school students next fall. I am lucky to be one of the trainers who will help train the rest of the staff about their new laptops and using Moodle, a popular course management system. We are in a Moodle training class this week, and another teacher was interested in my thoughts about online vs. traditional learning. I am one of the few who has much experience with online classes. I want to keep track of the thoughts I put on that discussion board, so I’m copying my rant here.

Some thoughts on online vs. traditional classrooms….
<rant>
My online teaching experience has been with adult learners, but honestly, they aren’t all that different from high school students. They may be a bit more mature in some areas and have different issues to deal with, but I still see the same types of learners and trends in behavior that exist with 17-year-olds.

I don’t see classroom teachers becoming obsolete ever. Scratch that—some individual classroom teachers can make themselves obsolete if they continue to work the same old way all their careers. I think that concept would apply to most jobs. My husband has been a lineman for 30+ years. He doesn’t work on a power line or transformer or sub-station today the same way he did in 1980. If he insisted on doing so, he would not have a job.

Sorry–getting off track. Back to the originally scheduled topic of online vs. traditional classrooms….

It takes a LOT of discipline to be an online learner. We’re all seeing that this week, aren’t we? It takes time, handling distractions and interruptions, etc. I don’t think the general population has the discipline necessary to be completely online learners. Teaching is a very hands-on, relationship-building kind of career. I guess if you were the kind of teacher who just writes the assignment on the board and sits at the back of the room reading your newspaper and let the kids figure it out on their own, then you could easily be replaced with an online class and no one would notice you weren’t in the room any more. But do you really know anyone like that? Yeah, it makes for a funny movie, but that’s it.

Frustrations can run high with online courses, especially for those who are less tech-savvy or who have any kind of learning challenge. They give up, disappear, and the teacher may not have any other way to contact the student. If they don’t log in to the class, you can’t contact them. They’re just gone.

Now, online learning certainly has many benefits. One of the greatest that I see is that students can access the material as many times as they want/need to comprehend. They can slow down or speed up through material as best suits their learning needs. In a classroom, most of the time it all happens at one pace.

Students have more time to compose their thoughts when responding to a discussion posting. They tend to revise more, go back an tweak their message a little more, before posting or sending an e-mail. More students participate in online discussions than live conversations in a classroom. We all know the one or two kids who will always answer a question or participate in a discussion. But when you take away the pressure of speaking up in front of a group of peers and give them time to process their ideas, many more students will open up and write their thoughts/feelings/ideas/concerns in an online environment. I’ve watched my juniors do that for the last two years when we blog every week. I guess I would fall into that category too. I would never speak this much in a class.

Another benefit I’ve noticed with online learning is that students will go back and work on something more than once. Again, I see my juniors do that a lot with their blogs. They’ll post one thing, but then later that day or week, go back and add to it. They won’t ever do that with an assignment given to them on paper. They do it once (hopefully), turn it in, and forget about it. They also read each others blogs or discussion board comments, and they write to each other. These same people may never speak to each other in class. Or they may be in different hours and not have the opportunity to comment to each other were it not for the online tools. Online learning opens up HUGE opportunities to expand their learning beyond the classroom walls and time.

We’re very lucky. We’ll have the best of both worlds. We will continue to have face-to-face classes and relationships with our students, and we will have all the power and benefit of online learning tools to add to the experience. What an amazing future we have ahead of us.

</rant>
Nancy

One Response to “Online vs. traditional learning”

  1.   Ms. Whatsit Says:

    I’ve been teaching an adult online class for the first time, and I can relate to your observations of adult learners. What’s most surprising is that it doesn’t matter that they’re all teachers. Some of them do behave like teenagers with regards to not having the discipline or the technology know-how to keep up with the course pace. This makes me wonder about purpose and buy-in. Regardless of the age, the learner must truly believe that the learning experience will benefit himself in some way.

    Technology may change education in many positive ways, but the fundamental psychology of learning remains the same. Dewey was right.

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