Online education won't replace face-to-face courses


Online education, or e-learning, has revolutionized teaching. But experts agree: the future of education will be a hybrid model in which online teaching will supplement face-to-face instruction. Why? Because evidence proves that interaction is a key factor in the learning process.

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In Chicago, in 2015, a group of researchers conducted an experiment with more than 1,200 ninth graders that had failed algebra. All of them were assigned to recovery classes. The main difference was that some took face-to-face classes, while the rest did it online. The results of the study —The Struggle to Pass Algebra: Online vs. Face-to-Face Credit Recovery for At-Risk Urban Students— were clear: those who took face-to-face classes learned more and reporter better results.

Besides this investigation, many others have reached the same conclusion: online education must be supplemented with interaction.

“Technology can add to the learning experience when it supplements, rather than replaces, face-to-face interaction,” explains a report from George Mason University, Does online education live up to its promise? A look at the evidence and implications for federal policy (2019). “The outcomes of hybrid models employing this approach do not mirror the problems that emerge from the full online course.” Some of these problems are bad learning experiences and poor student outcomes.

Student-teacher interaction is key in the learning process

The popularity of online education (also known as e-learning, virtual or distance education) keeps growing. Only in the United States, the number of students who take one or more online courses grew from 1.6 million in 2002 to more than 6 million in 2016, according to the report Grade Increase, Tracking Distance Education in the United States (2018). The predictions state that this increase is unlikely to stop. The firm Research and Markets, for example, forecasts that e-learning industry revenue will grow to $331 Billion by 2025.

In the face of this growth, many experts have warned about the limitations of an education model exclusively online. The main concern is that the digital model without human interaction adversely affects the learning quality.

“Learning is an active, dynamic process and that isolation is a risk factor associated with higher dropout rates,” George Mason’s researchers explain. “Instructor presence is integral for achieving interpersonal interaction and activities that emulate those of a ‘real person.’ Personal interaction increases student satisfaction, and by extension, motivation to learn and succeed."