A few months ago, I wrote a post in another edweek.org blog called Motivation Matters about the pros and cons of online classes. This growing trend is something my co-blogger Andrew has written quite a bit about, and something we’re both keeping our eyes on as the number of students taking online classes increases.
But recently I’ve had an experience that I think gives me a little more insight into the world of online learning. This summer, I moved from my home in the Washington area to Portland, Ore., and in the process my work environment has changed from a bustling newsroom full of colleagues to one computer in the basement of a house where I am the only one working. While teleworking definitely has its perks (my commute consists of a 30-second walk down the hallway), there are inevitably some things I miss about being in an office.
Just like online classes, teleworking means giving up daily interactions with people who are working in the same niche as I am. Not seeing them every day makes it harder to collaborate on stories, and I don’t have the advantage of easily bouncing ideas off other reporters or getting someone else’s perspective on whatever I’m writing. On the other hand, e-mail makes it possible to ask questions and get feedback fairly quickly, and I don’t feel particularly cut off from the resources and expertise of my colleagues.
Overall, teleworking has given me the opportunity to pursue certain life goals without having to choose between those and my career, which I do not think would have been possible 15, or even ten, years ago. I imagine there are similar reasons behind many students’ decisions to enroll in online classes. Learning online gives students greater flexibility in what classes they can take, when they can take them, and where they have to be in order to take them. I do think there’s something to be said for a classroom environment where discussions between teachers and students can generate new ideas and help prevent confusion, but the situation I find myself in now is helping me to see that through e-mail, telephones, and the Internet, those interactions can still take place, albeit in a somewhat more formal and less off-the-cuff kind of way.
Still, I do wonder how difficult it would be to learn something completely new entirely through the Internet, especially for those students who are visual or auditory learners (although I suppose video streaming could help with that.) I also wonder about the amount of self-discipline and maturity needed to stay on task without a teacher or mentor actively watching and encouraging progress. I’m sure that educators and students alike share these concerns, and as online learning continues to grow--because I don’t see this trend slowing down--we’ll have to see how these and many other questions will be answered.
What is your take on online learning? What are the benefits and drawbacks? What experiences have you had taking or teaching Web-based classes?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.