Virtual Learning Is No Substitute For The Classroom

This is a fascinating discussion, and the more important for my business of training and business coaching, is if and/or how virtual learning fits with face-to-face learning. Are we talking substitution or blending or…? Read further for three opinions on this matter.

Peter Hirst, executive director of executive education at MIT Sloan School of Management said that physical human interaction is such a powerful way of creating and maintaining relationships that online learning is no substitute.

He said:

The competitive comparison is not between on-line and in-person, it is between on-line or not-at-all.”

Sloan is exploring alternatives such as “the virtual version of the Big Data 4Dx programme will be conducted using AvayaLive Engage, a third-party platform which allows students using the online format to interact in a virtual room with faculty members and other students using personalised avatars.

Eric Brynjolfsson, director of Sloan’s Centre for Digital Business said:

“Digital technology has revolutionised media, music, manufacturing and finance, now, it’s beginning to revolutionise education as well.”

Sean Decatur is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Oberlin College said that online courses enhance but do not replace college.

In a Forbes article he elaborates:

There is a substantial difference between the educational experience of students who take the online courses (even those with the imprimatur of an elite institution) and the experience of students in the on-campus program supplemented by the online materials. Because these new online courses are not a substitute for in-person classes, and it is appropriate that students completing them do not receive credits toward a degree.

According to Dr. Harry Hellenbrand, CSUN provost and vice president for academic affairs, online classes are an alternative, not a replacement for traditional classroom learning.

He said:

“(Online courses) are a way of reaching out to students with primarily jam packed days. This allows them to take a course that they can squeeze into (their schedules).”

Online challenges

Hellenbrand said that although online courses are beneficial for some students, entirely online courses are not the most suitable for incoming freshman, who generally do not succeed in a digital classroom.

Only  29 percent of Americans believe online courses provide the same education as in-class courses, but 51 percent of university presidents believe they are of equal value, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Students want the campus experience, Hellenbrand said. In his opinion, the experience increases students’ maturity and is essential in preparing them for their career.

What does this mean for the business model?

I think these three opinions make it clear where virtual learning and college learning stands. They enrich each other and are not a substitute.

This is important to understand what kind of business models could be viable options for virtual learning, MOOCs etc. Virtual learning could for instance be approached as a low entry course, which afterwards can be upselled.

Other options could be:

  • Matching students with employers,
  • Licensing content to schools and
  • Charging for proctored exams.

These are all options that enrich and not neccesarily replace classroom learning.

What’s your opinion? Does it enrich or could it also replace?