We learn through collaboration, discussion and sharing. However we also learn by quiet contemplation and by the often solitary processes of reading and writing. Most levels of education today, both classroom and online, stress the importance of group work and our ability to function in groups is highly valued. However there's a risk that we are forgetting the importance of working alone and thereby losing the opportunity to think deeply.
This is the theme of an excellent TED talk by Susan Cain called The power of introverts where she argues the case of all introverts who aren't comfortable with group work and seldom contribute to class discussions. This is not because they have nothing to contribute - often quite the contrary - but that they need time to think before expressing themselves. Classroom discussions are generally dominated by a few confident students and group work is also dominated by those who enjoy speaking and being the centre of attention. Crowds are not always as wise as we think and are sometimes easily lead to the wrong conclusions by dominant or manipulative members, both in class and online. She argues that society puts too much emphasis on groups and social interaction and sees solitary activities as negative. Offices are now mostly open landscapes and few people have the luxury of a quiet space to work. Open spaces can be creative but creativity also needs peace and quiet.
A teacher's perspective on this issue is presented in a blog post by Monica Edinger, In the Classroom: A Few Classroom Teaching Suggestions from an Introverted Teacher. She presents a selection of strategies to enable the less vocal students have a say in class discussions. This involves waiting for answers in silence rather than always feeling obliged to say more. It also involves not giving the dominant speakers so much space to dominate, doing much less group work and giving students more time and space to think. Written communication, often as an online private dialogue between student and teacher, gives more introvert students a more appropriate channel to reflect and discuss their learning.
The main idea behind the concepts of flexible or blended learning is that we have the tools and methods to let students learn the way that suits them best. There is a need for dynamic group work and that must be available but we shouldn't forget that many people learn best on their own and need more space to learn. The secret is in the mix.