Has virtual learning made learning worse?

children learning

Having been involved with learning and development since the earliest days of the worldwide web I have watched large numbers of ‘experts’ promise many wondrous changes to life and society. There was promise of transformed delivery of health care, communication and, indeed, the delivery of education and learning.

Without doubt, the Internet has proved itself to be a disruptive technology and its impact has been transformative in some areas. Some of the promised changes are, however, yet to be seen – or at least there is only little evidence. Our local hospital is providing limited health care support for the elderly using remote consultations but there is yet to be a significant presence of doctors offering consultations using online tools. It may well come but we haven’t seen much so far.

By contrast, Radio and TV are very different some 25 years after the arrival of the web as are corporate communications. There can be few people working in larger organisations that have managed to avoid the online meeting.

So I was interested to read an article in trainingzone last where Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration posed the question ‘Have virtual meetings made meetings worse?’

It is a good question and in his response details some problems that he has noticed. How many of do other things during such meetings and fail to give full attention. Referring to research by RoperASW and Tandberg Hall points out that only 23% of participants give full attention when participating in an online audio conference (compared to 55% in a face-to-face event). 25% of us handle Email while we are in an online meeting (compared 3% in a face-to-face get together).

I confess that I have also done the same. So I found myself asking what this might say for virtual learning environments and online learning? What is the quality of learning if, say, a quarter of participants are doing their Email at the same time?

The proponents of massive open online courses (MOOCs) speak of their impact but at the same time confess that completion rates may be as low as 5.5%.

The MOOC movement is frequently disparaged because completion rates are abysmally low. HarvardX and MITx recently reported that only 5.5% of people who enroll in one of their open online courses earn a certificate.

The UK MOOC site, Future Learn, claims that 22% of its learners are fully engaged but comparing the figure to the total numbers who sign up that completion drops to nearer 12%.

On average, 22% of our learners are fully participating, which tells us that they’ve been motivated to engage in the full learning experience. That also speaks to the effectiveness of the storytelling techniques that we build into courses to compel learners through to the end. Even if we looked at the number in comparison to everyone who signed up to the course, that number still comes in at 12%.

Of course, these bare metrics don’t tell us much about the qualitative impact of online learning but this must surely be a question for us to address if we are going to devote so much time and effort to moving in this direction and away from conventional face-to-face engagement.