online x offline… why bother?

25 Mar


If you’re even remotely interested in online education, you know it’s all the rage. There are currently more than 3000 online products in the ESL market alone, and it seems that everyone has an idea of what will make online education just as good as (or better than) offline education.

The first generation of online ed products did their best to adapt the offline information to an online version, which basically consisted of transferring what was on a page to a screen. It was simple, familiar, and relatively risk-free. Unfortunately, in doing this we lost the best of what offline education has to offer: real, face to face, human interaction. Online learning was just a digital, correspondence course.

The second generation of online education decided to emphasize the advantages of technology, and integrated things like social media, voice recognition software and algorithms to personalize learning. These additions differentiated online education from offline, but still did nothing to recreate the essential aspect of offline education, mentioned above.

So now, the question for future online education products is: How do we make an online version of real world interaction?

Or maybe, the question should be: Why bother?

There is no doubt that technology is helping us develop new forms of communication and education that were unthinkable 10 years ago, but instead of vying for the extremely, challenging goal of recreating human interaction, online, why not use online structures to stimulate offline learning activities?

Imagine English students who use an online learning platform to improve their English skills. They watch videos, do self-correcting exercises, and chat to other users in the community. They even have voice recognition software that helps them practice their pronunciation, but the real world practice, which is one of the offline factors that helps English students become truly fluent, would still be missing.

Now, what if, instead of trying to use chat forums, fancy software and skype sessions to recreate human interaction online, we simply created “missions” for the students? Why not embed offline activities into the structure of online learning? What if after every learning session, students were directed to use what they’d learned, in real world activities? What if we directed them to mix the best of what online can offer with the best of the offline world?

What then?



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