#Change11 #CCK12 Is online learning more supportive of interaction than traditional learning?

Online learning or traditional learning: which is better?  This evolving but nevertheless important question has been raised from time to time, and as yet I don’t see an easy answer to it.

Stephen shares his advice to teachers on online learning where he says:

“When I attended university, for example, I attended some very large classes. I never conversed with my instructor at all. I even had difficulty communicating with the teaching assistant. I was very much on my own. Most online learning offers a greater level of interaction than this.”

Most of the classes I attended were of small class, with at most 30 students, though there were a few mass lectures of more than 90.  We didn’t have teaching assistant for the instructors, and so I wasn’t alone in my learning in class.  I learnt with a small group of around 5-6 students on some occasions in the undergraduate  programs, but then I learnt mostly alone in the postgraduate courses.  That wasn’t surprising, as students studying at the pre-internet time were information deficit and have to find their ways through the library, in search of “knowledge” with books, artifacts or journals.

Do online learning offer a greater level of interaction than this? I think in my case, the interaction is different, as most of my interaction now with others have been over the virtual and digital networks, and I had only met Stephen Downes and George Siemens face to face on one occasion, when they visited the University here in Sydney.  I have not met any other colleagues (co-learners) of the CCKs, PLENK2010, Change11 and so these interactions are limited to conversations or sharing over artifacts.  I have appeared and interacted via Web  cams with a few on Google Hangout but that has added some valuable insights into who I have been actually interacting with, the real persons on the other side of the web.

How do you believe online learning is best used and could be used by Indian educational institutions?

Stephen says:

“Without having direct familiarity with Indian educational institutions (not to mention Indian culture and traditions) it is very difficult to describe how online learning is best used.
I think though that as a general principle the advice I give to Canadian teachers may well be equally applicable in India. The advice is this: to employ online learning to support one’s own teaching and development before attempting to recommend it and use it for one’s students. If I were to speak to an Indian teacher today, I would not offer advice on how to improve his or her classes, I would offer advice on how to use the internet to support his or her own learning.”
I happen to have some experiences in teaching classes with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, ranging from an Asian (Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian),  to European, Russian, and African, Aussie and other backgrounds, all face-to-face, in classroom and on-the-job training and assessment. I take Stephen’s advice at heart too, especially after learning through him and George since the inception of CCK08.
Students who came from different cultures have different expectations in classes, and so it is not surprising to find that some, if not all, who are at their mid-life aged students would be more comfortable with the traditional classroom approaches, with structured teaching (based on a lesson-plan didactic expert teaching) approach.  The teacher is the expert, and the authority to manage and design the class activities – would be likely the typical expectations from these groups of students.  However, students who are taking the course based on on-the-job training and assessment could have a totally different expectation, and this may stem from the fact that these students have accrued a lot of experiences at work, and so their expectation on me as a teacher would be more like an assessor and facilitator, where interactions would be based on conversation and on-the-job observation, assessment and reflection.
I found Stephen’s points here resonating: “When I talk about what works for me, I generally describe my process under three major headings: interaction, usability, and relevance.” What works for me in face-to-face teaching, on-the-job training and assessment, and online learning may only work well under those circumstances where interaction, application and relevance could lead to positive learning experience and outcomes.  So, for instances, there are situations where on-the-job training and online learning do not work, due to numerous factors that are not under my control.  For instance, there are trainees who prefer face-to-face learning over online learning, whilst others are looking for some online learning.   One size doesn’t suit all.
I would share Stephen’s final advice that  “I have to actually do the practice myself, in order not only to know that it actually is good, but also why I would think so, and why I would find this valuable.”  This is quite a challenge still for me, as I am still used to the classroom based teaching, where students are expecting me to deliver the class face-to-face.  I have used LMS though in supporting my students learning, both for the classroom lessons and on-the-job training.
Finally, I think online learning is a wonderful alternative to the traditional learning, though there are instances where face-to-face interactions would add some more “fruits” to the learning.  I still remember the precious meeting with Stephen and George and those were the golden moments where I could share privately some of my unique thoughts, and they shared their wisdom with me too.   How about your experiences on online interaction?
Thanks again to George Siemens and Stephen Downes for introducing me to the Wonderland of Connectivism.  So, if you want to have more interactions with them and other wonderful people, why not considering joining CCK12 AND Change11?  Or the LAK12?
What sort of online interactions are you expecting from MOOC?
Do you know who they are?
George Siemens and Stephen Downes.

9 thoughts on “#Change11 #CCK12 Is online learning more supportive of interaction than traditional learning?

  1. Hi Sui (or John?),

    I think you’ve raised some important points about how our learning and teaching approaches need to adapt to new expectations and challenges of our changing educational landscape. I don’t see a fundamental difference between f2f and online learning; I think there are ample opportunities for communication and collaboration in both and that traditional and progressive approaches are possible on both.

    What I do think is different and significant is the effect on communication, collaboration and interaction that the two different modes, i.e. f2f vs. online, have. Many of the other CCK12 participants have written lots about this so I won’t go into it here. I think both f2f and online modes have advantages and disadvantages and are more suitable for particular activities and for particular learning objectives or goals. I think there’s also considerable overlap and I think there are few cases where one is clearly the best option.

    From my experience, blended learning seems to offer the best of both worlds and we can choose which mode we think wold be the most productive for a particular activity. I also think that f2f contact helps to cultivate stronger bonds of empathy and trust between learners, something that I think happens a lot less on purely online courses, even with VoIP calls and webinars. Although I was interested by Sebastian Thrun’s learners’ emails claiming that they felt a greater degree of intimacy with him than in traditional university courses. I think that requires closer examination and it would be wonderful if people could expand their empathy and trust beyond their physical environments. I suspect the dynamics of acquring empathy and trust would be very different online but who knows?

  2. Hi Matt,
    I agreed with your points, and I reckon blended learning experience provides some of the best of both worlds, for many students, as they could choose whatever that suit them most. Relating to empathy and trust between learners, I think it is a subjective measure, and so it varies from one person to another, when learning online. I do think it is hard to understand how “Sebastian Thrun’s learners’ emails claiming that they felt a greater degree of intimacy with him than in traditional university courses.” though Sebastian has shown some videos from his learners openly expressed their views and experience with the course. In this regard, there might be a “longing sense” of connection between the learner(s) and the instructor (Sebastian), but how about connections among the learners? I shared your suspicion on the dynamics of acquiring empathy and trust in an online learning environment in between learners, if the course doesn’t encourage or support the peer learning or interaction. My experience with the MOOC was that such empathy and trust have been built based upon weak ties initially, then growing upon further interaction and sharing, into stronger ties upon time. However, I have only managed to connect with a few tens of ties, where conversation sustained. Would such ties be different from the face-to-face situation? I don’t know!
    Thanks again for your visit. I know you have been active in developing the online forum platform. So good luck to your development there.

    As I had participated in the forums of CCKs and PLENK2010 for sometime, I realized that it could take much more efforts in interacting in a forum setting. I might participate if I found a particular need to share and learn over those spaces. I am now finding it more “valuable” to have conversation and reflection using blogs over the forum. I would share my metaphor of learning about blog versus forum in a future post to elaborate on my preference.
    John

  3. Hi John,

    Re your last paragraph, I agree. I initially thought it would be productive to have a common space but having learned more about distributed networks and fitting that in with participants’ need to have “ownership” of their contributions and participation, I see that an entirely different approach is more beneficial to everyone. We live and learn!🙂

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