Putting Education in the Blender

Recently, I went conferencing to find the perfect blend of online and traditional teaching. Perfection has its pitfalls. I’d settle for optimal or almost optimal or even just things that seem to work. And a lot of the in-education crowd thinks only of a strong morning Joe when considering the nearness to nirvana.  

Transferring traditional content to the online environment takes skill, but teaching in the ether takes even more proficiency. Many educators immediately notice the extra time required to handle the online environment and its demands. Traditional courses are fixed to a large degree. Instructors need to be in the classroom at certain times, have office hours, and can estimate how much time it will take to correct assignments and exams. Online pedagogy isn’t a 9-5 job, isn’t very predictable, and online learners need more individual care. Instant gratification needs to be addressed, well, constantly.

Online education doesn’t work for all students either. Institutions are warning students of the commitment needed to complete online courses. Discipline and self-motivation are key factors. Students also expect training and support systems to be available 24/7. The large failure-to-complete MOOCs rate is a very telling indication of students’ motivation.

In my face-to-face classroom, participants are quick to point out how important the regular meeting times and place are to their “forced” dedication.  Another important factor to performance is the subtle motivation of having to face peers. Even though online instruction has made strides, your fellow online students our more like avatars, and unless instructors make efforts at introduction, they have names and little else to distinguish themselves.

Online instruction is one of Schumpeter’s creative destruction factors in the education economy.  But there is an equilibrium process at play, too. Over the next decade, the demarcation between online education and traditional education will not be much of an issue. Place will be the distinguishing factor. Online courses will be taught to students who won’t have to set foot on a campus. Traditional classes will have online parts, but a student will come to campus for face-to-face interactions at a specific time and specific place, and that place might not be what is currently defined as a classroom.

-Thomas Bacher

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