I’m an old-school learner in an online world (and why that’s a good thing)


When I was a university student, I drafted my essays with pen and paper, and then typed them out on a typewriter. I sat in crowded lecture halls and took pages and pages of hand-written notes. I had regular one-on-one discussions and debates (over many cups of coffee) with my instructors and classmates.

That was how I learned. And how I learned to learn.


But that was twenty years ago. Now I’m a student in the virtual world.


And that means:

  • virtual classrooms
  • e-textbooks
  • on-line discussion groups
  • webinars (online seminars)
  • communicating with the instructor by email

Without a doubt, I believe that online learning has the possibility to change the world by educating the masses: Anyone with access to a computer can learn–anytime, anyplace. And in some cases, it’s free.

For me, as a “stay-home” mom trying to reenter the workforce, it’s a convenient way to gain new, marketable skills as a technical writer.

And yet, something is missing.

That something is human contact. In particular, I miss that face-time you get with your teacher and other students. I also miss getting detailed comments and criticisms on my homework.

There are many whom believe–and I am one of them–that all of this is necessary for developing critical thinking and social skills.

Not to say that online learning isn’t a good way to learn. I’m just not sure it’s the best way to learn.

There is a lot of talk about the benefits of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). And according to this TED talk, there is even the suggestion that it would be better to do away with all forms of face-to-face learning and replace:

  • lecture halls with “e-spaces”
  • books with tablets
  • brick-and-mortar classrooms with “digital dormitories”

Not so fast there Mr. MOOC: Studies show that the blended approach–a combination of online and face-to-face instruction–to education is delivering the best academic results.

I’m lucky to come to the course with many years of university education burned into my brain. And, as a “mature student”, I am learning that my “old-school” skills complement my online learning. The study habits, critical thinking skills, general knowledge (english, history, sociology), and love of learning that I developed in my university days all enhance my learning today. And my marks seem to bear that out.

I have supplemented my online learning by stepping away from my computer and visiting the college library, purchasing paper textbooks (so I can write on them), reading beyond the reading list, summarizing (in hand-written notes) my weekly lessons (studies show that hand-writing helps you retain information), forging a deeper connection with my instructor and classmates, and asking lots and lots of questions.


Virtual has many benefits. But the real-world keeps me real.


  1. I have to say I feel the same, distance ed and online learning is great but I so miss the contact and stimulation that came from face to face learning, given a choice I think I would still prefer to be sitting in lectures and tutorials.

  2. Like so much about the new online world we all inhabit nowadays . . . something is gained, but something is lost. The important thing is to celebrate what we’re gaining but somehow hold on to what we’re in danger of losing. (Like occasionally sending someone a real physical letter or card now and then instead of just opting for the much easier and more immediate text or email or tweet.) Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  3. The idea that you learned “brick and mortar skills” that you are now applying in the online world is most insightful. I wonder if there is a way to provide a similar experience elsewhere in the lives of the net generation?

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