When I tell people I work in online education, people usually respond in one of a few ways:
- They have no idea what I’m talking about.
- They feel the need to insist that online education will never replace “real” classrooms.
- They think it’s cool and tell me about their own experiences taking online classes or about people they know who have taken classes online.
The third response is fun because I can hear what people think about online learning, or what their problems and successes were.
The first response is not terribly surprising, I suppose, especially among people in older generations. I love my grandparents dearly, but I’m not convinced they really understand what I do for a living. They know I help write classes, and that’s the important part for them to understand anyway. The computers and the web and everything else are just tools, and the learning is really the emphasis.
The second response is also not that surprising, I suppose, and I hear this reaction fairly often. It is this natural, almost knee-jerk reaction that some people have to online learning. I certainly have encountered people who are very resistant and even afraid of online learning. They tell me e-learning is “cold and impersonal” and that we can’t build relationships online the way we can in a face-to-face classroom. Sometimes there is a fear that teachers will be out of jobs or that e-learning will isolate people. I’ve been told that not everyone can learn in the online environment, and it’s only OK for certain people.
When people react with the second response, I generally try to reassure them that there will always be a need for teachers. Sometimes I say online and face-to-face courses often serve different purposes and different students, so it isn’t a competition. I usually leave it at that because I don’t want to get into an argument about it. Increasingly though, I find myself wanting to be a stronger advocate for what e-learning can really do if it’s done well. Of course there are bad examples of e-learning that are cold and impersonal where no relationships are built. Courses can be built online that work OK for highly motivated and organized visual learners but leave everyone else behind. But e-learning can be better than that.
I believe that e-learning can be extremely effective in building experiences for students. It can help them analyze and reflect and build connections. It can let students practice in a safe environment and learn from their mistakes. E-learning can be truly global in ways a strictly face-to-face classroom can’t. It can be flexible and individualized and allow students to discover their own path for learning. Online learning at its best makes students active participants in their own education, and those student experiences are what excites me about working in e-learning.
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