Today, I read an article at Education Week about the need to make schools "socioemotional places." I couldn't agree more with the main point of the article -- that education today has lost its focus on cultivating the socioemotional development of children, as standardized assessments have taken over the spotlight in the recent decade. I touched upon a similar topic in this related blog post back in April, 2012, which extends the relevance of this topic to college instruction.
But what I disagree with is how the article snowballs online learning into this very broad problem. The authors state, "[Online learning] has several potential disadvantages, including: removing or minimizing the human interactions that are important to real learning; taking the joy and camaraderie out of education; isolating and limiting students’ voices and involvement; and making education lifeless and dull." I agree that this can be true...but it's true for any type of class, depending on how it is designed and taught. I would argue that if an online class is designed effectively and taught by an engaged, active instructor, an online class holds more potential to foster the socioemotional skills for more students in the class than in a face-to-face classroom. In an online class, all students have a voice and more shy, reluctant students are likely to blossom and flourish.
The words we use to frame topics are powerful and, as such, educators should recognize the interactive, human, and personalized learning experiences that online classes can bring to students -- experiences that may be difficult for some students to find in face-to-face classes. This is a fragile moment in education and the conversations we have about online learning are critical. Thirty two percent of college students is enrolled in at least one online class. Online class enrollments are increasing at the K12 level too, following the expansion we have seen in higher education. When an online class is designed with technologies that are collaborative and involve asynchronous voice and/or video interactions and facilitated by an active, engaged instructor who is visible, supportive, and provides frequent feedback to learners (in voice and video), learners are often more compelled to share, reflect, take risks, and feel like they are part of a connected community.
Recently, I asked some of my online students, "What makes an online class feel more human?" Here are some of their responses (shared with permission):