When faced with the fact that this is the 21st century and so much of life is technology-driven, some people wonder if teachers will soon become obsolete. I can’t see that happening, because there are still too many things that require “hands on” learning. Even if regular schooling, as in years 1 to 12 become computerized, a need for teachers will still continue in order to grade assignments and exams, as well as to provide tutelage. My own son provides a great example of why we still need teachers.
Master Four is learning to write. A very clever boy, he knows how to operate the computer and has his own games to help him learn everything from reading to math. There is even a program that shows correct pen strokes for writing! He had been trying to teach himself from that writing program, but it didn’t seem to be sinking in. We sat down together and began to practice writing and in less than an hour, he was scribbling his name. All I did was show him how to do the pen strokes and he could imitate my hand position and stroke order.
However, there is one problem that even I can’t solve… correct grip. I’m not a qualified teacher and don’t know how to teach my son how to hold a pencil properly. That is what he has a kindergarten teacher for, because I just can’t figure out how to do it without a great deal of frustration. So, for all of us parents who can’t figure out how to teach something that requires a physical example, there will be teachers who will do the work for us.
Does that mean we need instructors for everything we learn? Of course not. Workplace training (or any sort of auxiliary learning) is just one area where having face to face training can be simply a money pit. For example, if you partner a seasoned employee with a new one, then there is downtime as the seasoned person trains the newbie and answers any and all questions, as his work gets left on his desk for another day or two. This type of partnering usually makes the new employee feel more comfortable to approach that seasoned person with any and all future questions, thereby further hindering production by the veteran.
Or, if it’s a continuing education course that all employees have to take and a classroom set-up is provided in the conference room, well, what production could happen when everyone is sitting in the conference room? It’s not only the expense of production loss, but also the cost of facilitating the training such as the cost of the venue and equipment needed, including the instructor to teach the material, or if you have employees spread all over the country, possibly setting up various venues or having a trainer or team of trainers go to various locations. It would be much more cost and time-effective to have that training done via e-learning.
Some courses are constantly being updated. So, in a classroom scenario, it is a challenge to get an expedient turnover of information between the time it is released and the time the students learn it, because in the middle are trainers that need to learn, understand and then disseminate the material, as well as reprint and redistribute manuals. In an e-learning environment, content can be changed quickly and then employees can learn new information, thereby eliminating the middle man, so to speak.
People like having a face to connect with a course too. They like to feel that there is someone they can approach with questions on the subject matter. It is familiar to sit in a class with an instructor, because it’s what’s always been done. So if it isn’t broken, should it be fixed? Most of these issues are resolved in the design of any good e-learning course, so it’s not as much a case of a course being “broken”. It’s just a different medium, rather than the flesh and blood sort.
The “face” of an e-learning course may not be an actual face, but more the overall look and feel of the design. Some courses do make use of an avatar or images of people so as to give an actual face with which the learner can identify. Having a good, easy-to-use player will help the learner feel empowered and in control. All these “faces” help the learner to be able to connect with the course and feel a sense of familiarity.
I can’t think of one e-learning course that doesn’t have some kind of help attached to it. We all know that a button with a good old question mark on it is for help. So, for a learner to be able to ask a question regarding an e-learning course is a matter of clicking a button or two. Glossaries help with the program and common questions regarding the material are usually included in courses. It isn’t common for a course not to be programmed well enough to cover all bases. There are also some courses designed with the function of being able to e-mail questions that aren’t covered. From experience, I can say that often answers ARE within the material, but have been overlooked.
There are also plenty of people who prefer traditional classroom instruction over e-learning because there is less responsibility on the part of the learner for acquiring the knowledge of the subject matter. Classrooms are teacher-driven, whereas an e-learning course is student-driven. In the classroom, it is easy to say, “The instructor didn’t cover that.” When dealing with an e-learning course, all the information is there for the learner, but it is up to the student to learn the material. It is known what information the course contains and from the assessments, it can be known what the student has learned.
Along these same lines, what is actually being taught can vary from teacher to teacher, so consistency can be an issue. It’s highly unlikely that every single trainer will do and say the same things, so the material conveyed can vary, as well as the level of quality in training, but in an online course, the material is the same, in every instance. It also caters to the various learning styles of the students.
In any group of people, you have varying levels of skills and learning preferences. Some learners like to read, others to listen and even more who prefer to watch and do. An e-learning course can cater to all those styles at once through text, images/ animation, audio, games, etc that will engage and hold the student’s attention. Meanwhile, the classroom instructor must resort to rote learning and can only go as fast as the slowest student, usually losing the attention of the quicker learners.
There is a middle ground in the classroom versus the e-learning debate, which is called blended learning. It takes the best of both worlds and puts them together. Blended learning is the ideal learning process in that initially the learners complete an online course to gain knowledge in the subject matter and then proceed onto the classroom portion to reinforce what was learned through the practical application of the concepts. By the time everyone gets to the classroom, they are all on the same page and have relatively equal knowledge of the material to be fully ready to participate in application and problem-solving. In a way, that is what Master Four in doing in his quest to learn to write. He uses his computer program to learn the basics such as the alphabet and pen strokes, then I (or his kindergarten teacher) physically go through the lab portion of holding the pencil and physically writing.