Symposium Entry

Aren’t traditional lectures the “well-oiled machines”?

January 14th, 2015

A poorly-designed course can happen in face-to-face classes, too; it’s time to look at the bigger picture.

In her essay, Capra essentially begins with the premise that online learning (MOOC or otherwise) is a poor substitute for face-to-face learning that is plagued with issues and challenges, so that extending it to large enrollment classes is, from the start, a doomed endeavor. She refers to online learning in terms of tremendous investments that “…have resulted in well-oiled machines that are not always pedagogically sound.” To this point, I would ask if that description would not be applicable to the standard on-site classroom teaching experience of higher education. In fact, this may ring even more true when we consider traditional lectures in large halls the standard fare for too much of on-site higher education.

Capra cites community college studies and retention rates, stating the paradox between growing demand and low retention. However, as a former Director of Distance Learning for a community college, I can confirm that this can be said about community college courses in general. The nature of the student population influences this paradox for on-site as well as online. In fact, most of what Capra cites as problems with online learning are, in fact, problems with any poorly designed and conducted higher education course and those often are the lion’s share of course taught in our institutions where faculty are subject matter experts and not master teachers.

Perhaps most confounding is the premise that ‘There is nothing that an online teacher can give a student that a good book can’t.” Really? Then you are not doing it right. I can recall more than a few face-to-face courses in my higher education experience in which we could remove ‘online’ from that sentence and it would apply. They were not doing it right either. Many still aren’t. So, does that mean we should just stop?

(Next page: Can you paint online learning with one broad brush stroke?)