Online learning vs blended learning

Ronnie Burt wrote a great post on July 23 entitled “Why today is my last teaching online …

It resonated with my experience as an online teacher, and I decided to comment on his post as follows.

Hi Ronnie. Thank you for the post. I have also been an online teacher, and I have to be honest: despite teaching for a great organization, I have gotten the same kind of feedback from every group of students I have taught.

You write “The measures of success are often wrong – learning experiences are far more important than a checklist of standards and objectives” – interestingly, my organization (intentionally or unintentionally) encouraged us as teachers to try to give the students a great learning experience. I think the course I have taught has succeeded fairly well in achieving this goal, and I have to commend the course designers for the idea. I taught oceanography, and the course was sold to the students as a virtual trip aboard a virtual vessel with me as the captain. The students even addressed me as “Captain”.

You write “Relationships, connections, and networking are minimized in the rushed online world” – I have encouraged students in my online course to get in contact with each other via social media, especially since they located in different geographical locations, but online relationships are not the same as face-to-face relationships. I would say 80% of my students identified and saw this as a negative characteristic of online education.

Differentiation and personalized learning is lost in the pre-created curricula and assembly line experience of most distance courses and MOOCs” – I fully agree. There were times where I knew the content had to be adjusted for certain students but I was ‘not allowed’ to change it (and I partly understand why not). Now I have to say that the online teacher can create individualized experiences for students in an online course by responding to their individual needs with the appropriate media, but it takes an incredible amount of time to prepare these additional materials – much more than responding to a student’s individual needs in a face-to-face situation and competing with the time my other responsibilities at a brick-and-mortar facility was demanding of me.

Motivation and engagement suffer through isolation – we’re seriously becoming ok with virtual science labs!?” – this is the number one complaint of all of my students. The online learning environment is not a representation of most of our students’ day-to-day life experiences. In fact, the (high school) students in my influence sphere who have tried a fully online education have found it so stressful and isolating that every single one of them have left it after a while hoping that they never have to engage in an online class in high school again. By the way, in principle I am not against virtual science labs when they are performed by highly motivated students since I believe that they do a commendable job of teaching students the thinking processes of scientific experimentation. However, I do believe a ‘real’ lab is a better learning experience.

The subject matter (and the learners’ needs) should drive instructional strategies, not technology” – great observation – I know this to be true for the integration of any technology in the curriculum, but I have never subjected online education to this critique. When you do, I think it is a “fatal blow” to the idea of fully online education.

Online education has helped me improve as a teacher though, and I am a ardent supporter of blended learning. I do think that blended learning is the best pedagogical use of the workflow improvements and enhancements that online learning brings to the table.

To lifelong learning!


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