The limits of online learning

This is an excellent post by Tony Bates about the limits of online learning:

  • The limits on accessibility: digital inequality, the lack of study space and physical or mental disabilities which make online learning difficult
  • The importance of in-person socialisation in education and its role in sustaining the motivation of learners
  • The particular needs of younger children which makes online learning much less suitable to them, as well as the demands imposed on parents as they fill in (or struggle to) for “the presence of skilled and trained adults” in the school environment
  • Subjects which need technical demonstration/practice or particular kinds of interpersonal interaction are difficult to teach online
  • There are personal dispositions and preference which leave some students and instructors better suited to this mode of delivery than others

He’s not offering a critique of online learning but instead suggesting we must recognise the value of both online learning and face-to-face learning. I increasingly think of this in terms of the symmetry principle in which we cultivate an understanding of the constraints and enablements of both modalities, as well as the technological reflexivity necessary to think about how they might be best suited to certain kinds of encounters. The epistemology of familiar co-presence has militated against this by leaving many of us insensitive to the limitations of the pre-pandemic mode of delivery:

Much of the problem with emergency remote learning was not so much the ineffectiveness of online learning, but the poor quality and ineffectiveness of the lectures that were merely moved online. Hidden in a face-to-face lecture theatre with 200 students physically present, the limitations became much more obvious when students were online – they just switched off their cameras instead of daydreaming in class.

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