About twenty years ago I recorded an introductory psychology course. For thirty hours I faced a camera and gave lectures—same teacher, same setting, same camera angle, different topics. Students later paid to watch the videos, took multiple-choice exams and accumulated credit hours toward their degrees. I tried to make this interesting but even I was bored with my lectures. This wasn’t a high point of my teaching career but it was something new and we did the best we could.
Today distance learning is different and mostly better. Top universities, medical and business schools, organizations and professional associations all offer online courses, information and updates. Least effective are programs involving passive watching or listening to pre-recorded lectures like the ones I recorded. In contrast, evidence-based research shows that highly effective learning can come through interactive educational experiences where students and teachers connect face-to-face in virtual learning environments. “Putting information on line is not the same as educating,” says an article in Fast Company (June, 2012). Instead “we have to build communities… between teachers and students but also among students.” Monitor on Psychology (June, 2012) cites a US Department of Education finding that “students whose programs combined both online and face-to-face elements had better learning outcomes than those in purely online or purely face-to-face programs.” Like my colleagues I now lead online courses that involve live class meetings, small group interactions, frequent student-teacher contact, video clips. live demonstrations and sometimes stimulating discussions among people logging in from around the world. Here is more from the Monitor:
- Effectiveness depends on the subject matter. Online learning of facts can be good; online skill learning is much less effective unless there is also ongoing, face-to-face supervision and experience.
- Frequently, online degree programs are not eligible for professional certification. “Most licensing boards won’t allow people to be licensed if their education has been conducted primarily or substantially online.”
- Blended training (combining both online and face-to-face components) is not light-weight education. When done effectively this takes more faculty and student preparation and time than traditional learning.
- Researchers, educators, universities and training organizations are developing partnerships and guidelines to insure high effectiveness in distance learning.
What are your observations or experiences with distance learning? Please comment.