Online learning in higher education is no panacea
Online learning can and does play an important role in higher education. But it can't replace the face-to-face learning that takes place every day in our colleges and universities.
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Online learning is useful for helping students master a body of declarative (factual) knowledge — for example, to learn basic facts of geography or biology. It also helps provide an environment to simulate procedural knowledge, such as operating the instruments in the cockpit of a plane. Its usefulness ensures that online learning will continue to play an important role in supplementing face-to-face instruction.
For people at a great distance from a college campus or whose responsibilities preclude study on campus, or whose finances won't permit face-to face instruction, exclusively online learning provides a useful option. For others, a hybrid of online learning with face-to-face learning provides a better option. Online learning can't fully provide five major functions of higher education:
Learning as a conversation. Long ago, Socrates recognized that the best learning occurs by active instruction involving a student and a teacher exchanging, refining, and sometimes, replacing ideas. One learns best to think critically, creatively, practically, wisely and ethically through personal and immediate interaction with another human being.
Tacit knowledge. This is the hidden curriculum. Much of what one learns in college isn't learned in the classroom but rather through personal interaction with professors, fellow students and staff. This includes, for example, relating to other people, understanding different points of view, communicating effectively and regulating one's emotions when faced with emotionally charged interactions.
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