Mike Connell

The Big Question: Online vs Traditional Learning

By: Mike Connell | March 23, 2018 | 
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online vs traditional learningWhen it comes to learning, there are increasingly more and more ways to access the knowledge we need to get ahead.

But with all the choice and access, at what point do we ask ourselves: online vs traditional learning? Which one should I choose? Which one is the best?

Online Learning: There’s a Class for That

There are amazing online courses available to lifelong learners and students at various stages of their educational journey.

The options seem endless: we can take courses in writing from Malcolm Gladwell, shooting and ball handling from Steph Curry, and cooking from Gordon Ramsay.

Note: I think virtual Gordon Ramsay is likely way better than Gordon Ramsay IRL, but my opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of the larger Spin Sucks Community.

What makes those online courses so good? Is it the fact that they’re online? That they’re so accessible?

Traditional Learning: Back in My Day

I know what was supposed to make my traditional learning experiences stand apart: the school itself (go McGill), the reputation of the department (yay English Lit), and the professor(s) in question.

Those elements are what students following a more traditional path are, and have been, paying for over the years.

Now at the time, I didn’t have many choices outside of the traditional ones. But if I had, what would I have changed?

Does sitting in the classroom enrich my learning process? Were the curriculum and process best for me?

Is that the best way to learn?

Is that the point?

Online learning is efficient. It’s accessible. Personally, I find it very effective. Best?

If not, why? What do you (did you?) like better about a “traditional” learning experience?

That’s our Big Question this week:

What is the big difference between online learning and traditional classroom learning?

Online vs Traditional Learning: Trust

The proliferation and overall availability of information online doesn’t always make our lives easier or better (read: fake news).

Just because something is online, looks reputable, and has been liked, double-tapped, or hearted by a number of your online friends (or friends online), doesn’t mean you can trust it.

From Laura Hall:

Online worked for me, but it’s not for everyone.

I found online learning perfect for my digital marketing course.

I was working full-time and did not want to travel anywhere unnecessarily, so using my laptop at home was perfect.

The nature of digital marketing is that you need to be working online anyway so learning in a classroom would not have been as helpful as working through genuine online examples to use in our future careers.

Online learning is not always the best way to learn, for example if you’re learning about how to do something where you aren’t able to touch, see or hear it, then that’s probably not the way to go.

It is easy to find conflicting learning information online, so make sure you are learning from a reputable source that you trust.

Preparing Us for the World

There’s a “that was easy” attitude when it comes to finding and accessing resources and learning online.

But when it comes to education, higher or otherwise, is easy the point? Is that how we are best served as we prepare for the world?

Alexander Lowry, a professor, acknowledges the benefits of online learning, but notes there are some things you can’t do digitally:

There’s no question about the convenience of the cost effectiveness of online learning.

But there are some parts you can not replicate online.

Take Gordon College’s one year accelerated master of science in financial analysis program.

The point of this program is not only to provide a top-notch technical education, but also to prepare (read: help) our students land good jobs.

Networking is personal. So is coaching.

You can try to do these from afar. But they don’t work as well.

That’s why we only offer our program in-person. We can bring in senior finance folks from Boston to campus to engage our students.

It’s very different to sit and have coffee with someone vs talk on video.

Online is great in some aspects. But it cannot replace some of the critical extracurricular aspects of a program like ours.

What Minecraft Can Teach Us

When it comes to online vs traditional learning, Jennifer Hancock is strongly in the “it depends” camp:

I do like online for some things. But what I teach is just knowledge transmission.

It doesn’t require a lot of coaching and practice. Whether I teach it online or in person, it’s pretty much the same.

The big difference is Q&A.

It is much easier to have a discussion about implementation and make sure that comprehension is clear through a discussion—when it is in person.

I view online similar to reading a book or listening to an audiobook.

Different people want to self-study in different ways and online can facilitate that—especially if they are a motivated learner.

It is also useful for redundant training that is really just about making sure people receive knowledge (like a harassment training).

The hybrid model works well.

Your question made me think of my son—who likes to play Minecraft.

He will watch online videos related to that and then excitedly come to his computer to try out what he has learned.

He self-educates through online content all the time.

On the other hand—he is also learning to do woodworking. His dad is teaching him.

This requires hands-on in the workshop—learning how to saw, or sand, or whatever.

It’s best taught through apprenticeship.

So—which is better? Depends on what is being taught.

Some things need to be experienced, others can be transmitted through a lecture (book, audiobook, or video).

Online vs Traditional Learning: Getting Hands-On

Tori Hebert is on the same page:

I think it depends on the class.

One reason my multimedia class has been such a challenge is because I had no previous experience working with a camera or editing software and I had no one available to work hands-on with me.

There was no in-class practice time to ask the instructor about questions with the equipment or a trial period to take photos/videos while the instructor guided the process.

If I took this class in the traditional classroom setting, I think I would have had more confidence going in to the first video-let alone the following three.

Online vs Traditional Learning: Yes, but No

From Carol Prigan:

People do learn in different ways.

Providing a variety of learning experiences is a challenge.

I spend my time developing courses for traditional classroom delivery as well as online courses.

I provide live webinars and on-demand online learning.

Personally, I can learn in a variety of ways, too. I don’t like being lectured to, so I avoid those classes.

Lately, I have gravitated to on-demand, online learning because it fits my schedule better.

I teach a lot of tech tools and it seems to work better in the classroom.

Participants can work along and get help as they learn.

Sometimes the technology used to deliver training or professional development can get in the way of learning if it is not well-designed and “intuitive.”

You don’t want the medium to get in the way of the message.

Mary Deming Barber agrees:

It depends on the class, but more importantly the student.

We all learn differently.

Some of us need to be front and center with the teacher so we can concentrate better. But we also learn by doing and by asking or interacting.

For me, that’s easier in a more traditional setting with less distraction than my computer has.

Learning and Community

Sara Hawthorn notes that, in its early stages, online learning could be somewhat isolating:

I think the differences were greater a few years ago, primarily in terms of support, and feeling alone with online or distance learning.  

But now with Slack, FB groups, etc, it’s far easier to create a community similar to that of classroom-based teaching.  

Being able to ask questions and get the support of the teacher and/or peers studying the course makes a huge difference to the value of online learning and the likelihood of completing a course.

Imogen Hitchcock takes the other side:

I personally don’t think that anything can beat the a more traditional learning experience.

The personal interaction just can’t be replicated online (even with Skype/Slack).

People learn in very different ways and, if you’re all in a group together in one place, accommodations can be made for that.

In an online environment, it’s very much watch and learn, and then work on your own.

There’s no real opportunity for one-on-one practice or discussion… at least, not in the same way as in a face to face situation.

We Can Always Do Better

Back when online and distance learning was in its earlier stages, there was an amazing campaign that stays with me to this day.

There were two videos, specifically, that stood out.

One went the apologetic route:

The other took an inspirational tone:

They’re not just about accessibility or quality or, really, how it should or shouldn’t be done.

They speak to potential and they acknowledge that we should always strive for better.

Not just in how we can learn, but in how the educational system itself can learn and evolve.

The answer to this week’s Big Question? It’s not really online vs traditional learning. It’s not one or the other. 

It’s “we can always do better,” and that, really, is what we’re all about at Spin Sucks. 

We re-define our industry and re-write how things can, and should, be done.

The Evolution of Education

Modern marketing, PR, and communications are constantly evolving and we have to evolve with them.

How do we keep up? We read. We write. We’re lifelong learners

We take courses such as the Modern Blogging Masterclass, or we download resources such as The Communicator’s Playbook.

These aren’t pitches: They’re examples… case studies for what we strive for.

We are constantly trying to find ways to add educational and on-the-job value for our Spin Sucks Community and PR Dream Team members, and we’re constantly learning how to do that in inspired and effective ways.

Whether that’s through online vs traditional learning, the key is to learn. The more ways, the more tools we have to make that happen, the better. Right?

What do you think?

Next Time… Reddit: The Front Page of the Internet

I LOVE Reddit. But it baffles me. Scares me sometimes. And to a degree, that’s why I love it. It’s fun to figure stuff out.

However, where Reddit scares, Snapchat has historically confused me.

I don’t have any desire to figure it out.

If I need to find a stories-like-way to capture a moment and tell a story, I’ll look to Instagram and Facebook, thanks. 

Stories give me anxiety, sure, but fear? Not so much. I see the value.

I know how they can and should work.

Reddit? It’s a labor. 

We talked about Reddit for marketing not so long ago, but it only touched the surface.

Redditors are tribal. It’s a bit of a cult.

And while the organization and its members are transparent about what they will and won’t abide when it comes to advertising and marketing, effectively marketing or publishing in that environment is often more trouble than it’s worth.

So, next time on the Big Question:

To Reddit or Not to Reddit

You can answer here, in our free Slack community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

About Mike Connell


Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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