Some reasons why saying “online learning isn’t as good” doesn’t make sense

Compiled from this Twitter thread (excuse the accidental triple negative in the first line!)

1. Online learning isn’t a method (e.g. recorded lectures or videoconferenced tutorials) and it isn’t a technology (e.g. discussion boards or Zoom). It’s a potentially infinite set of possibilities that *sometimes* involve online communication. 

2. The thing that online learning is being compared with isn’t a specific thing either. It’s a potentially infinite set of possibilities that *sometimes* involve people being in the same room at the same time and/or accessing shared physical resources and infrastructure. 

3. It might* be possible to compare a specific online learning approach with a specific on campus approach, but if the online approach were found to be inferior that would just suggest changing online approach. [*This usually wouldn’t be meaningful because…] 

4. Comparisons depend on how well each approach was done, how well it suited students, how well students engaged with it, relationships between teachers & student, infrastructure & support for each approach, surrounding circumstances, what else students did and so on…. 

5. Comparison research mostly shows no significant difference in outcomes between modalities. It isn’t the modality that makes the difference. It’s the combination of factors: student attitudes, teacher’s ability to teach in that context, and to relate to the students, etc. 

6. It’s not either/or. Much of what on campus students do is online learning (both inside and outside of scheduled classes). Most of students’ learning (e.g. reading, watching, talking & thinking outside of scheduled events) isn’t directly to do with an explicit teaching approach. 

7. To rule out entire modalities is to shut down a lot of possibilities that might have worked well for some students, some teachers, some subjects, some circumstances. 

Statements about what’s not possible to do online are often based on assumptions that all of the learning takes place through digital devices. Online learning still has access to the physical world, just as on campus education still has access to digital technology. There may be important limitations (e.g. nobody to physically intervene in dangerous tasks) but these are logistical challenges, not conceptual impossibilities. This distinction is important: we can think of limitations as design challenges. 

We can think of all education in terms of what’s available & possible. In on campus education, both campus and online environments are available. In remote education, the constraints of not having a campus available can promote creativity, innovation and richer analytic thinking. 

For some, having to attend a campus is a limitation. Online options can increase the range of possibilities & thereby improve inclusivity. Not everyone shares the nostalgia for the campus experience and an imagined ideals of finding lifelong friends, etc. 

Finally, I suspect some people think “online learning isn’t as good” because the online remote teaching they’ve seen or heard about wasn’t very good. Try to keep an open mind. The best teaching I’ve seen and done has been remote and online.