Has the world ever felt smaller than it does today? Wave after wave of technological advancements have rendered distance moot for purposes of rich communication. The telegraph gave way to the telephone, which in turn has ceded ground to a wealth of online platforms that allow people on the other side of the planet to see, hear, and communicate with each other in real time. Suddenly, little details like geographic location don’t seem to matter any more.
So why hasn’t education moved entirely online yet?
Despite the best laid plans of educational entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, instruction remains a stubbornly geography-restricted endeavor. For every single student willing to explore MOOCs, blended learning platforms, and streaming lessons, you’ll find thousands more sitting in same classrooms as their teachers… and liking it that way. What happened to our grand educational revolution?
Simply put, today’s teens still appreciate in-person education. Sure, they’ll happily compete in online gaming arenas and connect emotionally and intellectually with friends around the globe. When it comes to something as serious as schooling, however, FaceTime and Skype seem insufficient. You might expect parents to be the ones who have a problem with online education, but many of the complaints issue from members of the connected generation themselves.
A current example of how these preferences play out comes from a study from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research surveying more than 40,000 students at 118 U.S. institutions. The surveyed students didn’t mind meeting with peers online, but interactions with teachers (e.g. labs and demonstrations, faculty/student conferences, and lectures) were rated as the most preferred activities in completely face-to-face environments:
“About half of respondents (56%) said they prefer some form of blended learning for their classroom environments—neither fully face-to-face nor fully online—and this preference was consistent across institutional type and size, as well as student ethnicity and gender. Looking more closely, however, we find that student preferences strongly lean (70%) toward in-person environments. Two in five students (38%) told us they prefer courses that are solely face-to-face, and another third (32%) favor settings that are mostly face-to-face. This finding suggests that students value the interactions with instructors and peers that can come with courses held in brick-and-mortar classrooms. In contrast, only a small percentage of students (9%) reported preferring environments that are mostly or completely online, and these inclinations could be driven by their work and family obligations.”
Interestingly, we see a similar preference among our high school students engaged in test prep or subject tutoring. While some of our students outside of Upstate New York have no choice but to engage with our team online, the ones in our area would rather brave snow and ice to breathe the same air as their tutors than stay home warm and cozy for the same lesson. Why this is so may not be fully understood from a scientific standpoint, but I understand this preference. Many teachers do, as evidenced by another EDUCAUSE study of 9,500 faculty members across 119 US institutions: the majority (51%) of faculty surveyed preferred a blended environment that includes both face-to-face and online components.
That said, live online instruction–particularly individual tutoring–offers plenty of advantages, especially for students and teachers who have already met in person and established rapport. This highlights the fact that education is still evolving. As distance education tools and experiences improve, student and teacher environmental learning preferences may change as well.