As a traditional 8th grade SS teacher by day and an online graduate student by night, I have first hand experience in the ongoing debate of online classes vs. traditional classes. I have been convinced that online education is the way to go, and then I live, see, and experience the benefits of traditional classes and I’m back on the fence again. For the sake of discussion, I see a lot of value in both, and I think more than anything it depends on the student and how they lean. With a great teacher, a traditional classroom for most students is irreplaceable.
Obviously, there is a lot of value in online education. Online classes provide a unique opportunity that traditional classes do not. For example, students can access the material at any time. In online environments, students can work more at their own pace and have much more time to accomplish various tasks. Various learning styles can be incorporated into the online curriculum so that many students can be successful at the same activity because they are allowed to demonstrate what they learned in a variety of different ways. The activities have to be student-centered in online learning. Also, since students are accessing materials using their own computer more often than not resources are not an issue when teaching and learning. Students can collaborate in unique ways that are more closely related to 21st century workforce skills. Students can communicate in ways that are more similar to the communication skills needed to succeed in an ever-connected world.
However, even with all of the pedagogical benefits of online learning, as a current classroom teacher I see and experience so many non-educational benefits of the traditional classroom that I have yet to experience as a student in online environments. Traditional classrooms – with good teachers – instill students with passion, interests, relationship skills, and a host of other attributes that students need in order to be contributors to our society. I consider these skills and emotions to be a part of the hidden curriculum of traditional education. For example, teachers teach students to be organized, confident, passionate, compassionate, etc. or at least we try to. You would be hard pressed to find those skills taught in just about online environment.
Not too mention, students learn to communicate face to face. They learn how to read one another and know how to respond and act. They learn how to troubleshoot social situations. In traditional classrooms, students learn to cope, prioritize, organize, and succeed. Sure they can experience some of these things in online environments, but it’s not the same. Seeing a teacher show how proud they are of a student is not as meaningful as reading comments in an online grade book. Working with other students face to face and physically getting your hands dirty in a chemistry lab is not the same as simulating a lab in a Google Hangout.
You see online learning does have a long lasting and much needed place in education. Students benefit greatly in online learning environments and they need to learn those skills, but nothing will be able to replace the intangibles learned in the classroom.