Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Long distance learning gets personal | How your online class may be a lot like a long distance relationship

Many of us have experienced the complications of a long distance relationship. We find someone we like and then we go to college, graduate college, get a new job, the list goes on. After the positive “we can do this” push, our experiences slowly grow foreign, disconnected and awkward.

So how is a long distance relationship a lot like taking a class online?
I recently finished an online accounting class. This is the first class I have taken that has been exclusively online (not counting online webinars/tutorials), and I have been attempting to pinpoint my discontent. I know you're thinking  “accounting?! That's why it was terrible”; meh--it was the one thing I couldn't force myself to learn on my own.

I am a big advocate of online learning, but I still feel strange being part of this “team learning environment” where you don't really know your teammates or your coach and you still are expected to perform. Part of it may be the disgusting clashing colors of the tiny online slide presentations that could have only been put together by a goblin or drug addict. But, for the most part, the whole setup brings back that same feeling of trying to study my significant other's social web over my mobile minutes and messaging.

As the class progressed, I found myself measuring the classes commitment my learning experience “...you hardly listen to me anymore webinar! I feel like we never talk...”. Disjointed conversations, erratic moments online, an abundance of social distractions, late nights up solving problems through chats and postings. So what is this yearning for human connection; why do I feel so lonely in my quest to understand balance sheets?

Devon, an IT professional, is no stranger to the online environment. He relates his experience taking an online class to his long-distance relationship experience in that “You're not really experiencing things together and so trying to catch up after a long week where you are both separated feels forced and awkward.”

Do your Learning Style
Label me what you like; I suppose multiple tests have proven that I am an experiential/kinesthetic/visual learner. I think that the experience of learning doesn't just come from facts and processes being revealed by a turn of a page or a click of a slide, but through human connection; student-to-student, teacher-to-student. I am convinced that a laugh/smile/intonation stimulate your senses, getting those brain juices flowing and growing. In this class, I'm on my own, humming to myself and my textbook and my mind-numbing presentation slides.

Kate Linder, a graphic Designer and teacher in Brooklyn, elaborates, “Material often just makes more sense when you can hear someone ask a questions and see the teacher answer it, as opposed to reading short questions typed in a forum. I'd personally like to see the online classroom more integrated; texting a teacher can be posted online with a click, live video chat with catch-up video download for those who missed it...”

So why am I able to learn independently online but not as much in a class format?
Simple (I think), I am in control. If I want to put down the books and pick-up a camera, experiment with my digital editing programs, or get a job seeing/doing, I can! No deadlines for learning or weekly measurements of “progress”. Who says we all progress in the same way? Who says we can all learn from clip art and text? (I'd actually like to know if anyone can really learn from clip art and text).

If this experience has taught me anything, (besides that I now know enough accounting to smile a nod at my accountant instead of zoning-out and drooling at the sight of a balance sheet) it has taught me that:

    1)    Not all online learning is alike, in fact, do your research before getting involved
    2)    Be self-aware and weigh your options
    3)    Do not underestimate the power human interaction when it comes to learning, loving, and the endless pursuit of warm fuzzies