As a beginning college professor, I once taught a course about the psychology of learning. Even then we knew the ineffectiveness of students sitting in rows, passively taking notes, facing instructors who gave one-way presentations, often reading from their notes or from words projected onto screens. Sometimes I wonder if much has changed.
In a posting titled “The iSeminary Cometh” (April 23, 2010) Christianity Today magazine describes how theological education is changing as more classes are taught on line. Some of these courses differ little from traditional classes. Students sit passively in front of computers reading words or listening to monologues from professors. But increasingly, higher education (including seminaries) involves innovative learning principles. Once again this summer I’ll teach an on-line course in coaching, part of a fully accredited distance-learning PhD program in the Regent University School of Psychology and Counseling. This course demands more work from the professor and involves more student interaction and involvement than many in-class courses. My students and I interact together in real time on line and are in almost daily contact. Students continue to live in their communities, work at their jobs, and apply their learning in their work. Is this inferior education as some distance-learning critics insist?
Research will tell but some evidence suggests that on-line learning is superior to traditional classroom experiences. Superior or not, the tsunami of Internet technology and the realities of on-campus education costs is changing and probably improving the way we teach. Despite some holdouts, most institutions of higher education recognize this.
Certainly some distance learning is poor and simplistic. Established instructors may fear new technology and resist the ilearning movement. It is true that getting together with other learners can be useful. (At Regent, the Internet students meet on campus once a year to interact face-to-face). Some potential learners lack access to sophisticated technology but this is changing. Even now the more creative distance programs involve students and professors, working in partnerships but from their homes around the world.