E-learning has become an almost integral part of our every-day life. We can find it in different formats and it is used for different purposes – online learning is no longer an exotic option of getting new knowledge or skills and is not opposing mainstream teaching at schools and universities. On the contrary, online courses are becoming an integral part of educational development and quite often experts argue that e-learning is the future of education.
Despite its popularity, there are still a few myths and misconceptions that are associated with online learning that stop some people from taking it seriously. We are going to dwell on three of them, as recognized by York University, in Toronto, Canada, that decided to set up a Master of Conference Interpreting, which has its first year of the program entirely online. They have come to the conclusion that teaching interpreting online… means overcoming misunderstandings. The three misconceptions, related to online training, which are valid not only for their particular case are:
- Online learning is easier or less demanding than onsite learning;
- It’s hard to build connections between people online; and
- The online environment is simulation of the physical environment and should be understood that way.
Let us have a look why these statements are incorrect.
Online Learning is Easier or Less Demanding than Onsite Learning
One of the main misconceptions of online courses is that they are not that “serious” or demanding as the classroom teaching, especially when it comes to university courses. Quite often students believe that these are part-time courses or that they do not require a significant investment of their time. Some learners see them as not as intense or as static. In other words, a university online course is profoundly underestimated.
Once the students enroll, they realize that the level of teaching and intensity of learning is equal to class-room teaching. The online courses are built on special platforms that allow live classes. Teachers and students see one another and interact the same way as they would do if they were face-to-face.
Quite often learners misestimate the workload as well. They do not realize it is going to be so intense or that they will feel exhausted as if attending lectures onsite.
The reality about online courses is that they are neither easier nor less demanding than onsite learning. If you approach the course with the right motivation and expectations, you will be able to realize and value all its advantages.
It’s Hard to Build Connections Between People Online
Online learning is perceived as “cold.” People believe there is no human touch or that the learners remain strangers among themselves. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Learners maintain several types of connection while following an online course, which are actually the same as those learning onsite. There are four different ways of interaction:
- With the course material. The online courses use a special platform and learning management software that helps the learner interact with the material.
- With the teachers. Interaction with the instructors in the virtual classroom is similar to that in a real classroom. The learner can ask question or demand clarification. In some universities teachers also offer virtual office hours, during which students can call them via Skype or other means.
- With the administration. The standard online form of communication with the administration is via e-mail. However, given the fact how overloaded our mailboxes are, this is not highly efficient. Therefore, other means such as online forum or weekly Q&A sessions are a better solution.
- With the other students. The most important interaction is student to student. It is not difficult to foster such communication using the technology we have nowadays. Every year the students create a Facebook group without the instructors having access to it, where they can discuss what happened or get peer support. The same can happen for any online course regardless of its setting – a university module, corporate training or just a MOOC. Besides, learners meet on Skype as they would do over a cup of coffee. As a whole, students build a strong sense of community and quite often can extend this friendship beyond the online environment.
In our technology-driven world we tend to meet new people and build relationships more often online than in real-life situations. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to believe that online courses will decrease the level of connection between the participants.
The Online Environment is Simulation of the Physical Environment and Should be Understood that Way
There are students who still remember what it was before the internet, however in couple of years we will have “internet-natives” who never had any experience in real-life. Therefore, comparing something from the online environment using the phrase “it’s just like…” will no longer do, since it will be referring to an experience they never had.
The physical object or device may no longer be the baseline for understanding a given action or phenomenon.
Quite often the learner is more familiar with doing things in the virtual world than in real life. We need to teach learners how to work both online and onsite. It may turn out that in future we will use the phrase “it’s just like doing it on your tablet,” when referring to an action that needs to be implemented in real life.
In other words, we should no longer perceive online environment as simulation of the physical environment but rather refer to them as simultaneously existent and mutually interacting and complimenting one another.
Once you get rid of the myths and misconceptions associated with online learning, you can take advantage of its true potential. There is a possibility to convert instructor-led training into e-learning courses and find free e-learning courses on various topics that can facilitate your further development. With the help of professional translation and proper localization, one module can serve tens of thousands of people across the globe. As long as you approach the online training with the required seriousness, you will see that the results will come.
- Teaching Interpreting Online… Means Overcoming Misunderstandings by Andrew Clifford, Director of the Master of Conference Interpreting on the Glendon Campus of York University.