Online learning isn’t as effective as face-to-face learning.
Not only is this statement far too broad and vague, it’s also demonstrably false.
There are undoubtedly many online courses which are ineffective, but all-too-often the learning experience in a brick-and-mortar school for many students is also ineffective. Think of your own experiences in school or college; Do you feel that you learned effectively from every one of your teachers all of the time? If so, you’re in the vanishingly small minority and are very, very lucky indeed!
The main reasons why a student does or doesn’t learn effectively (whether online or “face to face”) are not due to the where they learn – the effectiveness of education is far more dependent upon a combination of the quality of teaching they receive combined with their level of motivation, engagement and effort.
This much should be obvious, and there are many studies which show that the students who tend to perform poorly in the physical classroom tend to also perform poorly online.
Consider also that young people today, even the most motivated and high-aiming students, simply don’t consume and retain information in the same formats or through the same mechanisms as they did just a decade or two ago. There are a rapidly growing number of psychological and neurophysiological studies showing strong evidence to support this conclusion, and the fact that this makes young people today less amenable to the traditional model of face-to-face classroom instruction and far more amenable to learning online.
There are also many advantages of learning through an online course, especially when the course is effectively structured and provides quality learning materials, interactive content and qualified, expert teaching:
- No disruptions of lessons or lost teaching time due to bad behaviour of other students.
- More time to think and complete tasks in an online course, rather than being limited by the time frame of a physical classroom lesson, where a teacher needs to “get through” specific content by the end of the lesson, putting a time limit on each task in a lesson.
- Complete flexibility for the student; an online course can be studied and its learning tasks completed whenever and wherever the student wants, at a pace which is determined by the student. This is categorically NOT the case in brick and mortar school or college, where there are time limitations due to students and teachers having a set daily timetable of lessons of fixed length, and the consequent tight deadlines for the completion of each topic and each task set.
- The ability for a student to ask as many questions about a specific topic as they want, continuing their dialogue with their teacher for as long as they need to achieve a good understanding of the topic before moving onto the next topic or lesson. This is not the case in a physical classroom, where the time limit imposed on each lesson, the presence of 20-30 other students who also have questions, and the need to “cover the content” by the end of a lesson all severely limit a teacher’s available time to answer questions from individual students.
- More confidence to ask questions without worry of what their peers in the classroom might think, and more time to organise their thoughts before asking questions. Many students are more comfortable engaging in meaningful discussions online than in a classroom. These students might also have hearing or speech impairments; speak different languages; have social anxiety; or simply need more time to organize their thoughts.
- Better retention of information and more effective revision. In a well-constructed online course, the lesson recordings, teaching videos, activities, assessments, feedback and other learning resources are available at a student’s fingertips 24/7 anywhere they choose to study, whereas when a student attends a lesson in a school classroom all they have to rely upon to ensure they don’t forget what they’ve been taught is their memory, together with whatever notes they’ve taken or class-work they’ve produced.
- The ability to use emergent technologies (such as AI and machine learning) to improve the tracking of students’ understanding and progress, identify students’ misconceptions, and personalise the learning journey for each student. Such technologies can also be used to provide detailed feedback for every activity a student engages with, which would be completely impractical in the traditional face-to-face classroom.
- The ability to use interactive activities, simulations, games and other tools to create learning experiences which would be difficult or impossible to deliver in the physical classroom.
The blanket statement that e-learning is less effective than learning in a classroom is not only false, but speaks to a complete unfamiliarity with truly effective, up-to-date e-learning technologies and educational methods. For nearly two decades, giant corporations such as Apple, Google, Intel, Microsoft (to name but a few) have been using the incredible flexibility and power of truly effective e-learning to successfully train their engineers, data scientists, analysts, marketers and so many other specialists online.
SURELY then, it’s possible to leverage those same technologies and approaches to successfully teach sciences to high school and college students in a way that guarantees more than just a “pass”?
OF COURSE it’s possible. Not only is it possible, it’s entirely practical!
The e-learning technologies and methods used by these industry giants are not (and have never been) proprietary secrets – these technologies and approaches have been public knowledge for nearly three decades – but they have only just started to trickle down into the higher education sector and universities in the last ten years, and the public school sector are even further behind, still stuck in the e-learning stone age.
These corporations don’t just sit their teachers in front of a webcam and deliver lessons to their students through online video-conferencing and call that “e-learning”. They do so much more than that. They craft comprehensive online courses filled with rich, interactive content and use cutting edge technologies to process the data about their learners’ activities, progress and learning behaviours to better understand how they learn, identify gaps in their knowledge and skill, provide personalised feedback, and help uniquely tailor the experience for each learner’s needs.
Even the companies which currently offer online courses for school and college students in the UK are still way behind the curve. Part of the problem is the inevitable “gold rush” of companies hurriedly trying to produce e-learning offerings to capitalise on parents, students (and most recently, schools) desperately trying to fill the gaps in secondary education using technologies and educational approaches which the private sector have left in the dust decades ago. Not only are most e-learning providers using antiquated and unengaging technology to deliver their “teaching”, but they’ve also not factored in the most recent data on how students learn and the emergent ways in which young people of today assimilate information.
With the UK’s education system struggling to adapt to the changing landscape of how students think and learn, and in the face of an increasing need for exactly such an effective online solution, it’s the most motivated and ambitious students which are being let down the most.
Truly effective e-learning isn’t just Skype calls or emails back and forth between a student and a “tutor”. It isn’t just about watching “teaching” videos that promise to give you mastery of an entire module in less than an hour (and fail miserably). It isn’t just web-pages of written material and diagrams together with the occasional set of exam questions you’re expected to complete, with “tick and flick” marking and unhelpfully vague or insubstantial feedback from dubious “tutors”.
E-learning WORKS. Just ask Google, Microsoft, Intel, and Apple et al. But most of what the uninformed call “e-learning” is outdated and ineffective, or just plainly NOT e-learning at all.
And that’s why I created Invisible College; to bring cutting edge e-learning technology and up-to-date, effective online education methods to GCSE and A-level science students, specifically the type of students who are being least served by the current status quo; the most able and the most motivated.