Online learning challenges traditional instruction

The Covid-19 virus has forced colleges and universities to move instruction from the lecture hall to videoconferencing.  The change is an opportunity to compare the two approaches to student learning (“School’s Out for the Coronavirus,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 18).

I realize that what students learn is not limited solely to what their professors lecture about.  Often it’s the interaction in dorms and elsewhere on campus that is equally valuable.  But in today’s obsession with measurable outcomes, there is no substitute for subject matter knowledge.

That’s why I wonder if online instruction is not as successful as traditional instruction.  In fact, it may prove to be even more so in the final analysis because lecturing is the least effective way of teaching.  I say that since students sit passively while their professors talk at them.  Online learning, in contrast, engages students by requiring them to make active responses.

Only by comparing outcomes between the two approaches can the issue be settled.  But tradition dies hard in academe, which is why I doubt anything substantial will change.

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4 Replies to “Online learning challenges traditional instruction”

  1. Agree that colleges need to do controlled experiments to determine the relative effectiveness of on-line vs. live teaching. My personal gut reaction to on-line teaching is negative. Perhaps/probably because virtually my entire education (K through law school) was via live teaching, I have always found video teaching (as in continuing legal ed or OTJ training) to be much more boring than live teaching. It may be that video teaching triggers a TV-or-movie expectation in my brain and, when the video inevitably falls far short of the entertainment value of a professional TV show or movie, my brain responds with “I’m bored”.


  2. Labor Lawyer: All of my undergrad and grad courses were delivered the traditional way. But too often they relied on lecturing, which reduces students to passive listeners. Well designed online courses avoid that by engaging students through active responses. I’d like to see a comparison of the two approaches to determine which one if more effective.


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