Online learning is not effective learning


If networked learning is the direction for the future of learning, then I believe that it must overcome the same problem that networking has struggled to shed. Networking events have dominated the business and science world as ways for professionals to cultivate productive relationships for future employment or business. Some of the problems of networking are a fear of rejection, uncomfortability,  and the fact that people are unsure of how to start or continue these types of relationships. I see the same problems existing for networked learning. I confess that I have fallen victim to those problems in my own networking.

As a case study, take a MOOC as an example of networked learning, where participation is unlimited and all content is delivered through self-paced online modules. In this case, an undergraduate student with limited interactions with digital learning in their secondary education will not be able to perform at a high standard. Students may be unfamiliar with the learning interface, and the “instructor” or teaching assistants may be fielding hundreds of questions at a time. Many times a FAQs page exists to help students answer their own questions. This would leave a new student uncomfortable with their learning arrangement, and transform the learning into a chore, which is the opposite of the goal of high-impact learning strategies.

Therefore, without clouding my opinion any further, I do not believe that MOOCs are the form that networked learning must take in the 21st century. A fully online course eliminates the personal connection in learning that allows for students to become comfortable in asking questions to the instructor. But, in saying that, I am not advocating for totally face-to-face instruction either. A mixed mode environment where the course is based on face-to-face interactions, but replaces seat time with small online modules for content delivery or digital in-class activities that allow for small groups of students to interpret/teach higher order understanding. This environment does not address all of the problems that are associated with networking or networked learning, however I believe that the inclusion of face-to-face interactions will allow for the development of relationships that are beneficial to the learning that networked learning is aimed at accomplishing.

7 thoughts on “Online learning is not effective learning

  1. I was hoping to give myself some clarity as to how I feel about online learning and degrees with the term paper from the professorate class. It is about is clear as a cup of mud. One the one hand, it has the potential to reach so many more people. On the other, it seems so unengaging and that you could mail in the effort. I have taken a few classes online, and they were simply exercises in information regurgitation from prerecorded lectures and PowerPoints. We had ‘discussions’ on forums about various topics. The level of discussion never seemed to approach that of in-person discussion, in my opinion. Knowing how much work went into my Master’s degree, I felt cheated that people could represent themselves the same way I do with an online Master’s degree. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers a MS in entomology both online and traditionally. Again, I get it that online courses allow people to gain more knowledge at nearly any stage of life. It allows people access to a college education, provided they have internet. I would have to agree that online learning is not effective learning. Call me an idealist, but I think higher education should still be about developing critical thinking. From my interactions with online learning, I don’t see that happening. It feels more like checking boxes to get a piece of paper that will allow you to check more boxes.

    Before that soapbox got slid under my feet, I was going to bring up the concept of the flipped classroom. That is essentially what you describe in the last paragraph. It does seem like a good way forward in our technology crazed world. Having never experienced that type of classroom, I do wonder about student engagement. Would they read and come prepared to discuss?

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    • I actually wrote about flipped classrooms last semester. A flipped classroom is where most of the learning of the basic information is done online at the students own pace, and regular meetings with the teacher are used to do exercises. Most flipped classrooms have a physical meeting space to do these activities, but recently a new form of the flipped classroom uses a digital space where all students in the course are required to attend, but have quick access to the teacher for help. This significantly increases the technical knowledge requirement on the part of the teacher to be able to effective use the eLearning platforms. I feel this still keeps an enormous amount of pressure on the student to learn. I also think it is hard to use in some areas specifically science and math. Flipped classrooms are really only effective for the top performing students, just like online learning. Those students have enough drive to be proactive about their education. The typical student may not. In other words, I agree and don’t have enough experience with the viability of flipped classrooms, but research tells me that the instructor that connect with their students and the subject matter will always have an effective learning environment for students.


  2. Some valid points Britton. I think every new innovative idea comes with its own set of pushback, right?! Sometimes the pushback is momentary and sometimes it takes a while to figure out the glitches. This semester I hope to provide some perspective and ways in which these strategies can be worked on, suited for a variety of fields. Fingers crossed

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  3. I have wrestled with my own thoughts on online learning. I currently teach an online class in Human Development, which marks my 6th semester doing so. The first time I did so, I hated it. I just did not feel as if I was actually teaching. I feed off live interactions with students. In HD, there is a lot of grey area- a lot of context that is involved in our topics, which requires significant discussions. This is incredibly hard to replicate in an online course. I still haven’t perfected this. My current approach is to split my class of 80 into 5 discussion group sections and require them to write an original post on a prompt using reliable references and critical thinking, then to respond to at least one post. I have found that students who are invested in their learning do a great job of this and do take away meaning from the experience. Luckily, the class is on Family Relationships, so I tend to get a lot of interest in the material. But, students who don’t care about the class or content won’t invest their time into the discussion boards. What I have realized over the course of my time teaching is that our pedagogical decisions are only a part of the equation- the motivation and interest level of the learner brings another piece to the puzzle. I think it is possible to facilitate learning in an online course, but I do think it takes a lot of effort for everyone involved. And the same is true for seat-based courses.

    That being said, I do agree with you that there are just some classes or topics that should be discussed in person. To not have this in-person interaction could be very detrimental in many cases.

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  4. I’ll admit it. The year was 2002. I’d never had a personal computer (although we used them at the library and school’s computer lab). I was in undergrad and a literature class I was interested in had an online component. I was filled with such anxiety about online discussions (not the discussing part but the online part) that I dropped the class for another course without the online component. So, I also have hesitation about remote learning simply because I understand the fear and frustration of overwhelming technology, especially understanding that even today not all students grew up with access to computers. (Sometimes I think we (teachers, myself included) overestimate our students’ technological abilities. So, however we use networked learning, we have to be prepared to make it as stress free as possible. It should add, not detract.

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  5. Thank you for your thought Britton! I think your concerns regarding online courses are valid, students may miss opportunities to enhance their soft skills, and of course the extent of effectiveness of learning subject matters is under question. Despite all shortcomings, online courses might provide access to many who do not have access to face-face education for a variety of reasons. It can also provide meaningful resources for professional development an life-long learning.

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