This may sound counter-intuitive from a person living and breathing online learning, but it is good for looking at what could still be improved in e-learning.
When did YOU last attend a chalk and board course? I had the pleasure of following a ten week evening class, with no other technology than a CD-player! Yes, there was the blackboard (not the VLE!), there was chalk, there was a physical teacher and fellow students sitting at a desk.
Let me repeat this for clarity: it was a pleasure! I thoroughly enjoyed it and not only because it was a change from the usual things I do, or because I got a retro feeling.
Upon reflection, one of the things I enjoyed most over online learning experiences was the feeling of undistracted belonging. There was a dedicated time of the week (Mondays and Wednesdays 6-9 p.m.) where we shut ourselves off from our worldly surroundings and did nothing but focus on our learning – no e-mail or phone interruptions, no other browser windows, no family entertainment, no servicing the tea kettle, no button where we could switch the course off any time we wanted.
Don’t get this wrong, I like flexibility, but when flexibility means fragmentation of time and spreading my attention to more things than I can chew, I find it ineffective for learning.
Another joy was the bonding and social ties that went beyond the course itself. Interestingly, the evening class consisted entirely of professionals, most of them doing some or other computer-enhanced day job. Despite all the social tools we now have online, they are still only ‘technology’ whence social connectedness is ‘technology-mediated’. This is different to sitting in the classroom together. What’s different? In a physical environment you have e.g. the opportunity for situated humor or for impromptu remarks and support. This can make you popular or unpopular with your peers, but it definitely has an effect on the social fabric of the group. In the beginning of the course, I was the only one to spend the break in the cafeteria – by the end it has become a ritual that everyone gathered there and chatted about things unrelated to the course itself.
Yes, I sometimes thought that various technologies could have been used (powerpoint slides, projector, etc.) to spice up the delivery, but what counted in the end was the satisfying feeling of benefiting from the course, both in terms of learning and in terms of socialising.