Kevin Blissett: Out of the Cave

Leadership, Classroom 2.0, Curriculum, China

The Death of the Classroom?

I just happened upon an interesting though logically incomplete article entitled “Long Live Instructor-Led Education” by Saul Carliner of Concordia University outlining his reasons for believing that face to face classroom instruction is not being threatened by e-learning courses and training. While I tend to agree with him in principle, I do not believe he offers the strongest arguments for his position. Carliner begins by suggesting that instructor-led classrooms are not being hurt by the current world recession:

For those of you thinking the current recession is the jarring event that will result in a revolution in learning; think again. Although a speaker at Online Educa in Berlin this past December predicted that entire training departments will be obliterated in the recession, that’s only likely to happen if the rest of the organizations these departments serve are obliterated. Otherwise, what we have learned from previous recessions is that training receives—on average—equal treatment. That is, if the overall staff of an organization is cut 10 percent, then the training staff is cut 10 percent, as Training magazine reported in 1993 when it analyzed spending on training during the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, and in 2002, when ASTD analyzed spending during that recent recession.

Fair enough. I accept the statistics as accurate. However, he does admit that the recession will likely increase the number of instructor-led e-courses. Won’t an increase in the number of these online courses lead to a decrease in face to face courses and, accordingly, an overall decrease in the number of teachers/trainers?

Carliner next approaches the meat of his argument by averring that formal classroom learning will not be replaced by informal learning–exemplified by blogging, social media, etc.–for the following reasons:

a) Informal learning is flawed. It is too narrowly focused and “sporadic.” That is, the learning does not have a proper context and is, consequently, unconnected. I tend to agree with this point.

b) Informal learning is inaccurate:

  • Content errors are higher.
  • Sources are unverified or not properly documented.
  • Bloggers, for example, are relying on other inaccurate bloggers, which compounds the problem.
  • Writing is not as meticulous.

These points do not appear to be very convincing. Ultimately sourcing a piece of writing, be it a university research paper or a blog post, depends entirely on the writer. You can have sloppy essay writers as well as sloppy bloggers. I suppose his point is that having face to face interaction reduces the possibility of error due to accountability to the instructor. However, aren’t bloggers accountable to a far larger audience, which has no compunctions about “calling out” and correcting the poster on shoddy writing? Wikipedia is a good example of this. Errors tend to be pointed out fairly quickly, perhaps even more quickly than a teacher would do in marking a term paper.

c) Interruptions cause a breakdown in the learning process.

No problems with point “c.”

d) Social media is often not a proper mode of training:

  • Quantity of users does not equal quality of content. (Ain’t that the truth.)
  • A study shows that only 21% of social media users actually create their own content and multimedia.
  • Research indicates that face to face interaction is still more effective socially.

Carliner seems to echo my own thoughts here.

He concludes by posing a question: Then, why are many bloggers trumpeting the “Death of the Classroom”? Carliner explains this–rather simply–by reasoning that bloggers hold this position because they feel that they have learned effectively via e-learning so everyone else can too. While he may be correct, this is not a very strong point.

We are a long way from abandoning the tried and true learning practices of the past in the face of the technological onslaught encircling us; however, using a high dose of technology in the classroom setting is not only preferable but essential.


April 2, 2009 - Posted by | social media, teaching quality, technology

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