Sunday, January 30, 2011

The human factor

Since I work with net-based education some people think that I want everyone to sit in front of computers all the time. Indeed there is a tendency to over enthusiasm amongst tech-friendly educators that scares less committed colleagues; for example, wild claims that a certain gadget or app will make schools/teachers/classrooms obsolete. The net is an arena for human communication and gives us opportunities for meetings and cooperation that were extremely difficult, if not impossible, to arrange only 20 years ago. The net expands our horizons but it's not some kind of alternative world.

The problem with terms like cyberspace, e-learning, m-learning, virtual reality and so on is that they give the impression that they are not part of our physical "reality" and have totally different rules. Whatever tools we may use and however removed from everyday life they may seem (World of Warcraft, Second Life etc) we are still the same people behind the cool screen images. There is no cyber, it's just plain old me talking, writing and interacting.

Every so often you read claims that we will learn everything on the net, indeed Bill Gates said something along those lines last year. I agree that net-based learning will be the norm in the fairly near future but it is rather naive to suggest that learning will take place exclusively on the net. A good blog post by Chris Lehmann called Perspective - The autodidact and Khan Academy discusses the limitations of video lectures like the excellent Khan Academy. Video lectures like these are good reinforcement for learners but they don't provide context or reflection. Someone has to set the scene first and explain why we need to learn these concepts as well as showing how they can be applied later. The delivery of content is highly effective on the net but you need someone to put it all into context and help you to draw conclusions. That is of course the role of the teacher.

"But let's never forget that -- even in the best case scenario -- once kids have learned the mechanics of the math that Khan explains, then they have to figure out how, when and why to use the math they learn. And I feel like Khan Academy does little to move us closer to that. For that, most kids will still - and always - need people (adults, fellow students, whomever) who will spend the time to help them make sense of their world."

The teacher can of course also be on line and the whole course can be carried out perfectly well on the net but there are also enormous advantages of face-to-face meetings and discussions. The one does not rule out the other. If all participants can be gathered together for a physical meeting then you should do so, if they can't then the net offers very interactive arenas that can also be exploited. The key factor, whether on line or face to face, is the human element; to teach, inspire, encourage, provoke and challenge.

1 comment:

  1. A great approach presented here! It is the well-motivated mix of things that gives most total benefit :)
    /Lennart Lundberg