Learning – Do students want face time or screen time?

Over the weekend I read a piece about a report on the future of learning according to millennials published by Millennial Branding and Internships.  This study surveyed 1,345 US College students about the future of education and reports that today’s students are more willing to learn online and that they see the future of learning as being virtual and social media driven.  I’ve not read the full report, but was struck by the fact that this study specifically asked “about students’ perceptions of and thoughts about online colleges and classes”, so it doesn’t perhaps provide an accurate picture of what students really think about the future of learning.  Despite this one of the findings is that

50 percent of students said they don’t need a traditional classroom to learn, but 78 percent do think that it’s easier to learn in a traditional classroom than online.
So in other words 50% do want a traditional classroom and 3 out of 4 students think it’s easier to learn in a traditional setting, which essentially highlights they want face to face contact.  Another report I came across this evening has looked at US teens aged 13-17 and how they view their digital lives and social networking.  This study highlights that the teens surveyed prefer to communicate face to face.
These findings are similar to those in a study undertaken by one of our former students, Robert McMillan.  This study was done three years ago and looked at whether students preferred using an elearning approach to a more traditional poster board resourced teaching session.  Robert found that whilst students liked the online resource, and would refer to it again to support revision etc they didn’t want online learning at the expense of small group teaching and 68% of students favoured elearning as part of a blended learning approach. Three years on I don’t think our students’ views have changed, they like and want more online learning that simulates clinical situations and scenarios and is rich in formative assessment and feedback which lets them see how well they are performing. They find these particularly useful for revision, but again they don’t want to lose face to face teaching contact.
With all of this in mind it was interesting to read another piece this evening in the Guardian titled, It’s too early to write off the lecture. Here Jonathan Wolf, Professor of philosophy at UCL writes,
For as long as the lecture is regarded as better than internet-based learning, it will survive on a substantial scale. And wherein lies its superiority? An interesting question. It is live. It is real. It is put on with you in mind, even if you are one of a large crowd. You experience it with other people. And, perhaps the clincher: it takes place in a university, bursting with life and interesting people who will inspire you in unexpected ways. Somehow live learning can be open and transformative in a way that transcends its educational function. Maybe one day we’ll work out how to do this better some other way. For the moment, while internet technology, if used well, can certainly enhance university teaching, and provide smooth access to excellent education for those unable to attend university, it is too early to write the lecture’s obituary.
Having just celebrated graduation it’s clear from chatting with our new graduates that they’ve been inspired by local ‘legends’ in the Medical School in lectures and clinical teaching. They’ve also received support and encouragement from teachers, doors have been open to discuss ideas, there have been research project opportunities and lots other activities to engage with.
Given all this there’s maybe life still in the old dog of traditional face-to-face teaching in higher education and we shouldn’t just assume that our students want to do all their learning online.
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