“The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” –Unknown
Online learning, particularly blended learning, which combines online learning with traditional classroom learning, is the future of education–and the future is here. Online learning requires copious amounts of reading, which requires better computer and reading skills.
Many of the local school districts in the Columbus area now offer online summer courses. The cost is lower than traditional courses, and they offer flexibility for the student to work at his or her own pace and have time for vacation and sports. In fact online courses are becoming quite commonplace. In 2000 roughly 45,000 K-12 students took an online course. By 2009 the number of students had increased to a whopping 3,000,000. Online courses have become the core of university education, as well. In the fall of 2010 6.12 million college students took at least one online class; that’s a 10.1% increase from the previous year.
Online learning is not without its critics, whose criticism includes:
- Online learning replaces face-to-face learning that is the bedrock of education in our country.
- Utilitarian courses in business are elevated above humanitarian courses, which are harder to learn without human interaction.
- Academic standards may drop without the personal touch.
- Communication is lost when you are not in the room with a real teacher.
- Many students may lack the motivation to stick to their computers for long hours of reading.
- Skimming online material will supplant deep reading of hard text.
But online courses need not displace traditional courses completely. In fact, most of the increase in online learning is in blended-learning environments. Blended learning, also called integrative learning, hybrid learning, and multi-method learning, combines traditional face-to-face classroom methods (in-class discussions, tutoring, debate, coaching, and personal evaluation) with e-learning (reading and essay writing) and self-study. An example of blended learning is driver training. I panicked when I read in The Columbus Dispatch that on-line driver education classes were approved by the state. Reading on, I relaxed, as the article explained that students would be learning the rules of the road online, but would have actual behind-the-wheel driving training with an instructor.
This blended approach is far better than online alone and for some subjects better than the traditional approach. After all, in the past some teachers just read from the textbook or sat there while the students read from the textbook. The blended approach can make the classroom experience much more interactive and interesting. However, for it to be successful, the upshot of blended learning is more reading, far more reading than in the traditional lecture class. For students to stay engaged with their computers, it is imperative that they be able to read and comprehend large quantities of reading material. Students must have excellent reading and textbook mastery skills to succeed with online classes.
Is blended learning appropriate for all classes? We don’t think so. Not brain surgery, nor speed reading. When changing life-time habits or learning new skills, it’s still best to have real instruction from an excellent coach. That coach can watch body language for confusion, can make sure that the work is being done correctly, make sure that the skill is being practiced correctly. We teach people to read faster through changing how they look at the material. We watch their eyes to see if they are understanding the physical part. We look at their recall patterns to see if they are getting what they need from the material. We have them talk to each other about ideas they gather to see how the subjective recall is coming. We watch faces for concern or questions. This can’t be done online. But what we do prepares them for all of the reading they will have online and ensures that they will be successful. We feel speedreading skills are essential for online learning.
Bonnie James and Judith Barker