Classroom versus Online Learning: A Reflection on Education Delivery

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A reflection on online versus classroom learning that has become topical during the pandemic.

Classroom versus Online Learning: A Reflection on Education Delivery

Education changed in its delivery because of technology well before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, home schooling, online lectures, Zoom and other virtual meetings, and other measures, were used to protect students from the virus. Many universities, such as Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Murdoch in Western Australia, have been reported in the media of suspending face-to-face lectures, tutorials and practical work, possibly for the next few years. Using the internet for learning has become a common and sometimes compulsory way of student learning.

There still exists a clash between teachers and academics believing students miss out on socialising by not learning in classrooms, against the convenience of anytime, anywhere online learning, often done alone. Schools and universities have been using correspondence studies, where you mail in work to be marked, for decades, as well as quickly adopting online learning. What I will do in this essay is reflect on the classroom versus the online learning environment though my own memories of undertaking both. I will also illustrate this with an example of an interaction I had showing how misunderstandings can occur that may not in the physical classroom.

Stating humans are social creatures needing physical interactions is a cliché, though often true. But the internet, expedited by the pandemic, has been accepted as an efficient way to learn. When I began university study, these technologies were rapidly evolving, though sitting in classroom lectures and tutorials were still done. I would go to lectures, but use learning systems for tasks such as: finding out marks, signing up for tutorials or submitting assignments. This set me up for postgraduate studies where the entire degree was completed online. Other students, especially those that had not studied for years, reported in my courses they were struggling to use these electronic systems. There was online help, but at an extreme, a few ceased studying telling me they struggled with not having someone physically there they could talk to, ask questions and obtain immediate answers.

The problem is, with the exception of online chat rooms or Zoom meetings, most communication at the moment are asynchronous. This term means that there are no real-time interactions that occur in physical spaces. Students must often wait for the teacher to reply to questions. Students may, for example, send an email to their teacher or lecturer and expect an immediate reply. But these professionals may be busy and not answer immediately. This can be frustrating especially if issues arise with understanding the course material, such as having a concept explained that the student does not understand. It has become expected by some students that the teacher will be there at all times, not just in certain face-to-face classroom hours.

A second issue is student motivation. Coursework and assignments may often not be the central focus of one’s life, so the learning work gets pushed back for other priorities. An important part of education is debating and discussing issues. In the physical classroom this is more immediate. Online, electronic message boards are set up to discuss issues, but are often ignored by students. Enticing students to contribute to discussions is done by offering a small percentage of the overall assessment. Many lecturers do this, but people taking the time to read material and discuss it with others have mixed results. Some students can see the message board discussions as something they do not have to do, missing out on opportunities to put their views forward.

Using the example of message board debates, computer-mediated communication where interactions are online can cause misunderstandings. Netiquette, accepted ways of civilly interacting online, can be different across age groups. In online university degrees, there is a large age cohort. What constitutes behaviour for one generation may not be the same as another generation’s view.

I will illustrate this from an experience I had while studying online in 2009. The topic being discussed was if employers should be allowed to view your social media content before hiring you. The debate centred on a woman who applied for a job requiring her to travel to China. However, in the past she had criticised China online. The hiring manager felt she was the best cultural fit for the job, but his Human Resources manager felt hiring the applicant would harm the company’s reputation. The consensus of this case was that the person being hired should be given a chance to explain why she posted those views. What happened in the message boards became a heated arguement.

The interaction as I recorded here omits details of the people involved. It is necessary to illustrate, from my point-of-view, what occurred to show how this became an arguement:

L presented her view which represents current thinking from a management view when she wrote:

I know I have researched potential employers online to see what their corporate values are, who they are affiliated with and who they endorse to see if they align with my personal values. Why can't employers do the same?

However, I objected and disagreed with her because I felt judging a person based on personal values from a web presence and denying them employment is wrong as my strong response indicated:

But personal values be aligned with the boss? That suggests that if on the internet you saw someone's Facebook and say they smoked and your personal values were you don't smoke but the person had 99% all the skills you need to make money for you would not hire them? ...To rely on Google for selecting people just does not seem a wise strategy to base a “we won't hire” decision on.

S offered a view that an employer would have to be very careful when hiring people that they don’t discriminate against the candidate. But K admitted she had done this practice and made a decision about a candidate based on the information she saw online.

The arguement here seems reasonable, but the student wanted to continue argueing with me, turning it personal. Others began to join in supporting either side, telling people they were wrong and began name-calling. The lecturer did not step in to stop this.

Students are told they are to debate issues and to be civil. In a classroom, being a physical, real-time environment, the teacher or lecturer would likely have stopped the arguement. Online, it is easier, generally, to argue with someone as you are not face-to-face with them. Students may try to explain their views to the other students, but the others may not want to read long written out answers. These are generalisations, but this example of what occurred to me taught me there can be a substantial difference between online and physical classroom learning. It is less immediate, misunderstandings might not be settled quickly and students’ expectations of civil behaviour, despite having set rules in place, are different. The ability to use message boards in courses is a skill that takes time to master, but it is often something that is not really considered that important to learn how to do so.

I am not criticising online learning. My view though is that in the debate between classroom versus online learning, being there in real-time is still important for immediate face-to-face interactions. The classroom or lecture is usually somewhere where communication is more efficient and answers to questions and explanations of concepts can be acquired quicker. But technology use in education and online learning will increase. Perhaps online will be seen as better as more use it. In presenting the context of an arguement I had with someone on a message board, on reflection I do believe in a classroom there might have been a better way to express our points-of-view without resorting to making it an “I’m right you’re not” arguement.

Education will be delivered in part or whole online. This is the nature of the impact of internet technologies. The convenience it offers is irresistible. I do not mind using technologies for education delivery. I just feel that sometimes having a teacher and other students there is a better way to learn. The interactions I do miss. Education is a commodity now; it might have been in the past but more now as it struggles against governments telling schools and universities they have to partially or wholly fund their programs themselves. The online learning environment offers valuable access to education. But the physical classroom, to me, is still where the best interactions and learning occur because you are in the presence of teachers and other students in real time.

 

 


Submitted: October 15, 2020

© Copyright 2020 michaeln. All rights reserved.

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