Monday, June 28, 2010

Learning through a screen

Guest post by Tim Handorf

The Internet has become the epicenter of nearly every aspect in our modern lives. The implications are vast. As we all know, education is not immune to the current sea-change of hyper-connectedness, whether for good or ill. In fact, e-learning is one of the hallmarks of burgeoning Internet trends. Both "open education" and for-profit online schooling are front and center in an ongoing debate about where, exactly, the Information Revolution will take us.

Still, while revolutionary ideas are the starting mechanisms of substantive change, the successful implementation of such ideas cannot and should not be implemented in the typical "revolutionary" manner. If there's one thing that historical revolutions have taught us, it's this--change does not occur overnight. Forcing such change neglects the time it takes for a human being to adapt. Now how does this conception of change apply to e-learning?

Traditional classroom teachers should embrace the unprecedented resources that the Internet makes available to both educators and students alike. Some examples of online tools that can power the classroom are forums that enable real-time collaboration, like Google Docs. There are also online libraries and archives that disseminate primary resources otherwise only available at larger libraries and research centers. These resources are just the tip of the iceberg.

At the same time, teaching is teaching, whether on or offline. There are some basic aspects of teaching that don't change, and it is imperative that educators remember this while gutting the Internet, searching for educational resources. These resources are surely varied and potentially enriching, but there is a reason why education begins and ends with the Socratic method. Simply put, it works.

Connecting with students on a visceral, human level, empowering them to think for themselves by enabling critical thinking through constant questioning, and reinforcing learned concepts via hands-on, dynamic activities—these teaching techniques are absolutely indispensable in our storied canon of traditional pedagogy. And of course, the teacher herself must be fully present and engaged. Why? Because passion is infectious, and if there's one foolproof technique that invariably inspires the love of learning, it's the convincing demonstration of the instructor's own interest in the subject being taught.

Currently, there is much virtual chatter about how the Internet is going to change everything. While the rhetoric can be seductive, again, it is important that educators, learners, and administrators understand that passionate words and arguments aren't always necessarily logical ones. Before we get caught up in revolution speak, we should remember what Peter Drucker, a professor and self-described "social ecologist" once said:

"Almost everybody today believes that nothing in economic history has ever moved as fast as, or had a greater impact than, the Information Revolution. But the Industrial Revolution moved at least as fast in the same time span, and had probably an equal impact if not a greater one."

As educators open to future technological changes, we should remember to focus on the good and filter out the bad.

Tim Handorf writes on the topics of top online colleges. He welcomes your comments by email: