In a way, I understand why some people say they hate learning online. Almost everyone has been forced to do so, including those who did not initially choose. We live in a time when most of the people who go to school (or teach in school) know that there is an online option. There are some instances when people may want to take or teach courses online, although for the most part they cannot. But for anyone else looking to study or teach online, you could probably go for it. The millions who were suddenly forced to switch last year did so against their first preference, and I understand how many of them have been frustrated by that.
Let’s face it – we all know that what has happened in the past two years is often not fully implemented, funded, and institutionally supported online learning. Most went out of their way to make it work, but due to bottlenecks in training, prep time, or funding / support, much of it fell short of the true potential of online learning.
This was also true of pre-pandemic face-to-face learning – even dedicated teachers are being held back by systems that don’t give them enough time, train them well, or give them the money and resources they need . We just pretend these are the “facts of life” for learning on campus … you take the good, you take the bad, you take both, and there you have … a gold standard ….?
Lower Austria. Any institutional leader or educated celebrity who claims that on-campus learning is inherently superior to online learning is insincere. They know that reality does not support their claims. They just hate online learning … but not for quality reasons.
The real reason? It’s about power and control. Executives cannot remotely control their students, faculty and staff as they do on campus. And that control doesn’t just get them a power trip – it also makes big $$$ for schools if they can get students to spend more money on campus.
And it really is: The real reason executives (institutional, intellectual, and other) claim that online learning is inferior and that on-campus learning is the “gold standard” is because they are in power (and that associated with it Money) lose this power).
Now – when a student or a faculty or even a university president declares that they hate online learning in and of itself – I get it. We all have personal preferences – I love learning online, but I understand why it’s not for everyone.
But there is a difference between saying that you personally don’t like it and saying that online learning is inferior, failed, snake oil, etc.
The difference, of course, is in the research. Indeed, there is research showing that there is no significant difference between the various outcomes of online and on-campus learning. Probably one of the best sources for research is the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s “No Significant Different” database:
“This site is designed to act as a growing repository for comparative media studies in educational research. Both studies of no significant differences (NSD) and studies of significant differences (SD) are constantly encouraged for inclusion on the website. In addition to studies documenting no significant difference (NSD), the website also includes studies documenting significant differences (SD) in student outcomes based on type of education. “
Currently, the numbers in this database are categorized as follows:
- 141 studies that show no significant difference
- 51 studies showing “Significant Difference – Better Results with Technology” (online is usually called technology)
- 2 studies that have not yet been indexed
- 0 studies show “Substantial difference – better results in the classroom”
- 0 entries with mixed results
Maybe it’s just my bias … but it seems the results tend to get online, maybe … better?
I recently had a major Twitter argument with a group of K-12 education leaders from the UK who asked me to publish an article that proves online learning could even work. They had already ignored two replies to these requests from a colleague of mine – and still asked me to send my own link, even though I had already referred them to these tweets and the DETA database. So I just refused to give any more links to people who wouldn’t look at them anyway – and got attacked in all sorts of horrific ways. But it seems like they got the impression I memorized website addresses for grueling pro online educational studies and I was just an idiot not to spit them out in a few seconds. Look – asking an online teacher to come up with an article that proves online learning is okay is like asking a geologist to come up with a study that proves rocks exist in the earth. Some may have something in mind, but most of us don’t spend much time memorizing what we consider to be “evidence of the obvious.” Others seemed to think that academics had all the time in the world to reply to Tweet # 54 asking for an all-proving link. Look – nobody owes you labor. When you ask for something and they don’t give it, you learn to respect people’s time enough to accept that they might be just as busy as you. Especially if you were the one who came up with the rhetoric, “online learning is a dying evil”.
It’s all complicated. I’ll be the first to tell you that whether or not you should study online matters, and for most people, it’s not even an either / or. Different contexts require different modalities for each person at any point in time. We just have to kill the obsolete and problematic “personal learning is the gold standard “BS.
(Cover photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)
Matt is currently Instructional Designer II at Orbis Education and a part-time teacher at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He previously worked as a Learning Innovation Researcher at the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His work focuses on the areas of learning theory, heutagogy and learning mediation. Matt has a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Masters of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instruction design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in classroom design and teaching at both secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference host. He also enjoys networking and working with faculty, students, administrators and everyone involved in the educational process.