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Monday, February 8, 2010

Why Learning Online is Better Than Offline

This past Sunday I unfortunately missed a webinar titled Why Learning Online is Better Than Offline (Lasse, 2010), but was able to view the recording - which I would recommend.  Lasse begins by making a distinction between online and offline learning in terms of control (i.e., people, context, demands/goals, learning on demand, etc.). At 25 minutes, 29 seconds, the following comment was made:

of course learning happens in all environments, but if we are talking about intentional learning of a topic, a comfortable environment is critical   

In a formal, more traditional classroom, the impression is often that students are learning what we as educators are teaching through intentionalism.  But how often is this really the case?  Take a simple conversation for example.  How frequently do intentional conversations take off on non-intentional directions (this webinar is an example of that, but more on that later).  It's impossible to predict with certainty what implications will result from what we say, whether we are having a simple two-way conversation or one-to-many exchange as we commonly find in the classroom.  This is precisely why formal education will always have a gap between the written and taught curriculum.

The second aspect of this comment deals with the need for a comfortable environment in order to learn.  This notion overlooks one important aspect of learning which is diversity.  Sometimes a difference of opinion makes us feel uneasy, uncertain, uncomfortable, etc., but a counterargument is exactly what is needed in education.  We expect this in academic writing, why not in other aspects of education as well?  I've learned more when I've had to question my own beliefs, thoughts, or understandings which invariably did not include a comfortable environment.  On the contrary, it was the uncomfortable environment that motivated me to reflect on my own understandings or lack thereof.      

As mentioned above, I got the impression that the "intention" of the presentation was to have more of a debate as to whether online or offline learning was better.  Instead, the conversation shifted to educational term definitions, web tool recommendations, and general teaching questions that had little to do with the debate.  Not saying this is a bad thing, only that learning is by-and-large not an intentional act, but rather an implicature (whether correct or not) based on prediction.

And the discussion continues...

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