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Teleworking and Online Learning: A Comparison

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A few months ago, I wrote a post in another edweek.org blog called Motivation Matters about the pros and cons of online classes. This growing trend is something my co-blogger Andrew has written quite a bit about, and something we're both keeping our eyes on as the number of students taking online classes increases.

But recently I've had an experience that I think gives me a little more insight into the world of online learning. This summer, I moved from my home in the Washington area to Portland, Ore., and in the process my work environment has changed from a bustling newsroom full of colleagues to one computer in the basement of a house where I am the only one working. While teleworking definitely has its perks (my commute consists of a 30-second walk down the hallway), there are inevitably some things I miss about being in an office.

Just like online classes, teleworking means giving up daily interactions with people who are working in the same niche as I am. Not seeing them every day makes it harder to collaborate on stories, and I don't have the advantage of easily bouncing ideas off other reporters or getting someone else's perspective on whatever I'm writing. On the other hand, e-mail makes it possible to ask questions and get feedback fairly quickly, and I don't feel particularly cut off from the resources and expertise of my colleagues.

Overall, teleworking has given me the opportunity to pursue certain life goals without having to choose between those and my career, which I do not think would have been possible 15, or even ten, years ago. I imagine there are similar reasons behind many students' decisions to enroll in online classes. Learning online gives students greater flexibility in what classes they can take, when they can take them, and where they have to be in order to take them. I do think there's something to be said for a classroom environment where discussions between teachers and students can generate new ideas and help prevent confusion, but the situation I find myself in now is helping me to see that through e-mail, telephones, and the Internet, those interactions can still take place, albeit in a somewhat more formal and less off-the-cuff kind of way.

Still, I do wonder how difficult it would be to learn something completely new entirely through the Internet, especially for those students who are visual or auditory learners (although I suppose video streaming could help with that.) I also wonder about the amount of self-discipline and maturity needed to stay on task without a teacher or mentor actively watching and encouraging progress. I'm sure that educators and students alike share these concerns, and as online learning continues to grow--because I don't see this trend slowing down--we'll have to see how these and many other questions will be answered.

What is your take on online learning? What are the benefits and drawbacks? What experiences have you had taking or teaching Web-based classes?

7 Comments

Katie,

I agree with you that online classes have their pros and cons. I recently graduated from Liberty University's Distance Learning Program with my Bachelor's Degree. I live in Tampa Bay, Florida; hence, my classes were all online.

I can attest from my personal experience that partaking in online classes requires organizational skills, task management skills, and self-control. Beginning is hard, I will not sugar coat it. Learning the blackboard system in itself was a learning experience that took time, concentration, and practice. Like anything, once I got used to blackboard, the online educational system, it became like second nature.

One thing I found frustrating was the lack of immediate access to the class facilitator if I had a question or got stuck on a project I was working on. There was a policy that they had up to 48 hours to respond back to us. So, that might force you to wait two days before resolving that issue and completing the assignment. This is another real life issue that exists with online classes and why it is important that the student not wait until the last minute to complete any assignments.

Another issue that can be viewed as a pro or con, depending on how you choose to look at it, was that occasionally communication with the class facilitator or other classmates proved confrontational. Sometimes in an email type correspondence the meaning of words chosen to communicate can be misunderstood or taken out of context and someone might end up offended. This happened to me, both ways, maybe several times. Therefore, learning about email etiquette is vitally important.

Overall, I found the experience GREAT! I believe it helped me to grow intellectually in the way of technological intelligence and in my abstract and critical thinking. Additionally, I was able to apply and reinforce the email etiquette I learned in my Business Etiquette class.

Since our world is now a global one with a global market, I think the skills that one can learn and utilize through online classes are invaluable. Let me close with adding, I do believe it is perhaps not the best choice for primary, some intermediate students, and some choice others. One must have a level of maturity that usually only comes with chronological age to engage in such a responsibility. I think everyone who will be working out in the world should experience such an opportunity.

Posted by: Rebecca Berton

Katie,
Online learning changes the way one learns and teaches. Good online instructors guide discussion towards more challenging topics, making students' contributions more interesting, dynamic and often surprising. The online discussion provides students with more time to ponder essential questions, reflect on posted answers, and evaluate the need for further commentaries. As an online doctoral learner, I find online collaboration to be sometimes difficult because the dialogue is delayed; but the time delay in answering questions gives me the necessary time to reflect, call students living in different time zone... The online dialogue is a different type of dialogue; a dialogue that is mediated by gaps in time, and reflective "time zones". I find these time delayed dialogues to be very productive. Yes, I do miss looking into another person's face when posing a question; I do miss seeing the words flying out of a professor's mouth; I do miss the lively classroom discussions. But I don't miss at all the distractions, the unavoidable traffic and parking, the need to make an appointment with a professor who is only available 3-5 pm twice a week. Online education gave me a tremendous freedom to engage in collaborative efforts with people who otherwise I wouldn't ever be in contact with, expanded my perceptions of community, and improved and expanded my written communication skills. I have also developed a tremendous self-confidence in my research skills. Online learning is not for everyone. It requires a tremendous amount of discipline, persistence, and a desire to be part of an ever expanding learning community in a world without boundaries.

Two very helpful examples from real students (I'm a college prof, been using BBd for the past 5-6 semesters). From my end, I've seen most (99%) of my students learn to use BBd and work effectively with the materials, assignments and interactions with other students and me. That small % does occasionally suffer, and in the rare exception fail using it (despite my herculean efforts:-). I'd like to know what other prof-types or instructors do to help those few who cannot negotiate the system that is so user-friendly but nonetheless doesn't work for them.
I will also state that using an online piece in my courses (ed. research and assessment) has made the quality of my students' learning exponentially better than my previous (sterling efforts) teaching. Bar none. Thanks...

If you have never taken an online class, you can only guess at what it is like to do so. If you have taken one or two online classes, you can only describe what happened in that experience. There is in reality a stunningly large span of experiences that fall under the generic term "online education." Students can work fully independently, rarely seeing an instructor, or they can have daily access to the instructor or a teaching aide, including live sessions with audio and video. They can look at drab, gray pages, or they can be working with highly engaging, interactive multimedia. Every day students across America are taking classes that have fully accounted for the objections you raise.

The biggest difference lies in who is making the classes. At one extreme, a class can be created by an untrained instructor who was just given a course shell and told to use his or her wits to make a class by next semester. At the other extreme is a course created by a dedicated and experienced team of professionals with years of experience, access to multimedia resources and technology, and a year or two to create the course.

The best online learning providers pour many thousands of dollars and years of experience into a single class that willl be used effectively by many different teachers across the nation. A course created by a single person in a few weeks, even with the best combination of technical skills and pedagogical knowledge, cannot possibly match that and will look very different.

The majority of classes fall somewhere between those extremes. Most importantly, people who have had only one kind of experience should not project that experience onto the entire range of possibilities.

Online learning is good, online learning or Distance mode learning facilitates those crowd who wish to do multi tasking. Here also there are its own pros and cons , Is this mode given the same priority at job inteviews as given to a full time class room degree ? With changing times even if we presume it is then will this be affordable by all, the kind of infrastructure at home to have a high sophisticated online learning. Now comparing teleworking to online learning we need to see the objective , teleworking reduces costs to company and individual where as online learning is just a mode of getting knowledge and able to save time so there is only an individual benefit and expenditure involved as compared to teleworking , a degree by online learning is much different from giving service online

Great information here! I am going to see if I can find more work by you. Side note on Teleworking topic: the best resource for teleworking (web conferencing) tools is the top ten report on http://www.webconferencingcouncil.com. They have a whitepaper you can download on the left handside for top ten vendors in 2009, which is REALLY helpful in sorting out the top vendors. Their top vendor listed in the whitepaper is VIA3 from www.viack.com

Great information here! I am going to see if I can find more work by you. Side note on Teleworking topic: the best resource for teleworking (web conferencing) tools is the top ten report on http://www.webconferencingcouncil.com. They have a whitepaper you can download on the left handside for top ten vendors in 2009, which is REALLY helpful in sorting out the top vendors. Their top vendor listed in the whitepaper is VIA3 from www.viack.com

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