Full disclosure, I’m a bit of a nerd! (Well, maybe more than a bit.) I love learning new things, I enjoy putzing around on computers, I like getting stuck and I like solving problems. And online learning is great... convenient, relatively cheap, and available on almost any topic. Whether YouTube, Lynda, Kelby, EdX, Coursera, Udemy, a MOOC, or another source, there’s a great deal of information in cyberspace to which we now have access. I’ve taken my share of online courses, even finished a few, and I’ve posted online lessons for my students, but as both a student and a teacher (of adolescents and adults) I’ve found that there are some real limitations. Here, then, are my top ten reasons that being in a classroom with a live teacher beats online learning:
10. You have an obligation to show up
It’s easy to put off the next lesson in an online class... “I’ll get to it when my life is a bit less busy” we tell ourselves. But does that day, or evening, ever come? In a classroom we have to be there, on time, and attentive, to learn what it is we hope to learn. Showering, getting dressed, driving to class, all gives us “skin in the game” when it comes to learning. For those few among us who don’t procrastinate this may not be an issue, but for most of us having that “appointment with learning” enforces the external discipline that most of us need.
9. You have colleagues from whom you can learn.
Having a community of colleagues with whom you can share ideas, projects, frustrations, and successes helps cross-pollinate our own learning. Often the student in the seat next to us knows something about the topic at hand that extends or enriches what the teacher is presenting. A good teacher will take that idea, question, or thought and run with it, making the learning that occurs deeper and richer.
8. You have colleagues with whom you can become friends.
That same classroom community from whom we learn can become our network, our acquaintances, and often our friends. Having those connections is enormously important in the professional world, where the person you know is often the person asked to do the job. Having connections that extend beyond the classroom is one of the true joys of education.
7. You can have your questions answered. Immediately.
The questions my students ask require me to revise my syllabus on a daily basis to cross off the tangents we have gone off on and rearrange the order of learning. Having a question answered or a problem solved when it arises is something that no online course can offer. Even with forums and message boards one usually has to wait some period of time for a response. With a teacher in the same room you can get immediate help and guidance.
6. You can fail and still be encouraged.
Failure is the most important lesson... learning what doesn’t work involves having a greater understanding of what does work. There’s a tendency to give up when a task seems too difficult, and without a guide by the side (rather than a sage on the stage) we can too easily go back to email or Facebook or something else that’s a lot easier. A good teacher will encourage, ask questions, and steer the task into more fruitful avenues.
5. There’s someone who knows what motivates you.
A good teacher won’t let you slide, or just go through the motions, in completing projects, writing papers, or any other aspect of doing your best possible work. They know your interests and passions, and can structure assignments accordingly. Online you’re on your own, or with 10,000 other students, and no one is really paying that much attention. Do it, don’t do it, it’s all the same to the computer. Just so long as your credit card clears.
4. You have an obligation to produce.
In a class you owe it to yourself, your classmates, and your teacher to produce interesting work. Online... not so much.
3. You find your areas of ignorance.
We know what we do know, we know some of what we don’t know and want to learn, but what about the things that we don’t know that we don’t know? You may want to learn something specific that you don’t know about, but what about the things you haven’t considered? In a classroom you’ll find all sorts of things from your fellow students as well as the teacher that you’d never have otherwise considered.
2. You can discover possibilities.
Your classmates and teachers will open your eyes and mind to ideas that you may have never considered, leading you into new directions and unanticipated insights.
1. You can be inspired.
The work of your teacher and classmates can help you to raise your game to new heights and to create better work than you ever thought possible.
Listening to a piece of music on your iPod is not the same as listening to that piece of music in a concert hall. Viewing art alone online is not the same as engaging with the work in the company of others. Emoticons are not facial expressions and CAPS aren’t vehemence. No one can touch you or shake your hand or pat you on the back online. You don’t hear other’s laughter, joy, or frustrations. You can’t see the twinkle in their eyes or hear the enthusiasm in their voices.
Online instruction is like an encyclopedia, it’s there to give you information, and it sometimes does that very well. It will increase the breadth of your knowledge.
A good class, on the other hand, is like art - you have to engage with it, bring something of yourself to it, and what it means to you will change over time and vary from person to person. It will increase the breadth, and the depth, of your knowledge, leave you a bit wiser, and foster within you a richer human being.