Will Online Schooling Suffocate Conversation?

These terms refer to the interactive process of sharing ideas, hearing, processing, and responding to a counterpoint and doing so frequently. This is how we learn, challenge, defend, update, and replace theories and paradigms in the pursuit of progress and ultimately develop to be better and stronger as individuals and as a society. Therefore, higher education should prioritize these activities more than everywhere else. Such conversation is intellectually healthy, and assuming evidence-based, reasoned arguments win over those based entirely upon ideology, this interchange will result in suitable adjustments.

A child receives distance education via the Internet.
Photo by Ahmed Hindawi on Unsplash

Over the last few decades, many educational institutions have included online courses as part of their curricular offerings, with some universities existing almost entirely or entirely online. There are many supporters of online education, but a careful reading reveals that most arguments begin and end with a pragmatic appeal: allowing students more scheduling freedom while saving money. These are critical issues, especially for returning students who must often manage the competing demands of work, family, and schooling.

It is vital to stress that the main argument does not revolve around educational outcomes. In the spirit of argument, the purpose to highlight what is problematically different about these courses: the loss of direct social engagement and, as a result, the death of dialogue.

People frequently do it passively when they interact with online information, seeing and skimming through with the occasional comment or reply thrown in. Students who take online classes frequently do so similarly, relying on habits acquired through social media experience and reinforced by schematic activation as the context and content type match these entertainment platforms. Online, asynchronous courses invite and sustain this behavior in a manner that in-person classes do not.

Consider the contrast between a recorded lecture and one delivered in person. Viewing the recorded lecture is optional because it is available for review anytime desired. As it broadcasts, one can use one's phone or open another tab to engage with different content. This is also conceivable in a classroom, but there is social pressure to stay on topic in the presence of an instructor that private access to content does not provide.

Because of this propensity to multitask and divert attention, many have argued that making recordings available is positive. Students can go back and evaluate what was missed and refresh knowledge that needs to be fully assimilated. The evidence needs to be more consistent on whether recorded or live lectures are better for exam performance and may rely on factors such as material complexity or student aptitude.

Regardless, a more significant issue is that access to recordings is likely to disrupt participation in such a way that it harms the development of attentional control, which is necessary for digesting lecture content and engaging effectively in conversation.

Aside from absorbing content, the asocial nature of much online material deprives students of the conversational engagement that might occur in the classroom between themselves and the instructor as well as themselves and their peers.

This skill is also required for connecting with people in the real world, as opposed to the digitally mediated one. This function is not available in live, in-person social engagement. It is an ability that is quickly lost without practice.

Many online courses attempt to emulate the social components of classroom engagement by providing discussion boards where students can engage in textual debate. This, however, could be a better alternative for face-to-face interaction. Furthermore, because the posts are asynchronous, the debate needs more of the vital repartee that makes live conversation enjoyable and challenging. And, as with much social media activity, one frequently posts and either (1) receives no direct answer or (2) ignores or is unaware of a response, leaving the topic to die as a one-sided pronouncement.

Furthermore, the emotional tone and inflection that give live speech its nuance do not carry over into online conversations. Such intricacy can aid in self-reflection on the impact of one's words and provide essential and beneficial insight into the speaker's aim or relationship with their thoughts. Thus, even if a discussion board were to mirror the synchronization of live contact, it would still be substantially distinct from face-to-face discourse in crucial respects.

This is significant because people appear to be particularly bad at managing their emotions these days, particularly in their relationships with others in cyberspace. The more dynamic, acidic, and unpleasant a post is, the longer it will live. Such conditions are unlikely to foster the development of self-control and emotional maturity. Actual conversation with live partners is significantly more likely to do so, not least because it confronts the speaker with the ramifications of their comments in real-time.

Simply expecting all students to complete in-person classes as a potential solution is stupid and impracticable. The term "responsibility" refers to the act of determining whether or not a person is responsible for their actions. Adjusting asynchronous classes to a hybrid model with some "live" interaction required, as well as discussion board requirements that urge students to respond to comments on their postings, can help students acquire conversational skills. Finally, group tasks for online students can stimulate social and intellectual engagement without a live classroom.

To summarize, whether or not online courses can provide students with the same objective knowledge transfer as face-to-face classroom training, they lack significant metacurricular benefits. Students who can criticize ideas in real-time, develop excellent and reasoned arguments, are self-reflective and experienced listeners and have mastered the art of practical discussion will be better prepared for success beyond graduation. A society comprised of such persons is prepared to outperform one that does not. We must be willing to consider the ramifications for students and society as we shift away from higher educational practices that stimulate discourse and toward personalized and isolating online education.