Four Important Differences between the Online Learning Environment and the Classroom Learning Environment

30 May

My temporary absence from the blog can best be explained through the hackneyed, cliched, beaten-out-of-shape excuse of having been busy. I was indeed busy with matters in the real world and so the demands of the virtual world were automatically shunted back into the yard.

A quick analysis of my behavior helped me draw some parallels with the online learner’s behavior.

There’s a world of difference between the environments of the online learner and the classroom learner. These differences often result in learner behavior that doesn’t explain itself readily to us.

The Four Important Differences between the Online Learner’s and the Classroom Learner’s Environments are:

  1. Distance from Family & Friends
  2. Flexibility of Time
  3. Strength of Supervision
  4. Urgency vs. Importance

Distance from Family & Friends

During the learning process, the online learners are much closer to their family/friends than their classroom counterparts. While classroom learning requires that the learners transport themselves to a specific location for completing a training program, the online program merely requires online access and so people often take online courses from home.

Thus it becomes difficult for the online learners to ensure that while they are going through their online classes, they aren’t disturbed. They often are, and in absence of a formal learning environment, it becomes difficult for them to refuse the demands of friends and family. This leads to either a short break in their learning schedule (to talk, to reply, to help) or a longer one (to go for a movie/game together.)

Flexibility of Time

Even if we leave everybody else out, the online learners have to play with the dangerous double-edged sword called “flexible timings.” When timings are flexible, we tend to procrastinate more. When we can do something whenever we want to do it, we get down to doing it only at the last moment. So the online learners with the flexible time option often find themselves running errands for those who don’t have the same option. “You can do it later, I can’t” makes them feel guilty about refusing to do the errand.

Strength of Supervision

The Online learners usually don’t have any sort of direct supervision. This isn’t good. I agree with Dr. Knowles’ Andragogy in principle, and I do feel that he captured the intentions and the motivation of the adult learner well. However, the intrinsic load for the learning content varies and content with higher intrinsic load often requires that the learners put their minds into high gear.

Direct supervision helps. It enables the learners to stay focused and master such concepts. The online learners are responsible for cultivating this ability to stay focus, despite the cognitive load of the content. Unfortunately, as we’ve discussed earlier, online learners often study in environments that aren’t all that accommodating.

Urgency Vs. Importance

Every question that pops up in a classroom learner’s mind is urgent as the class has a definite time frame; every concept that’s taught needs to be handled by the mind immediately. In the case of online learning, the situation reverses. Everything else around our online learners becomes urgent. The course, though important, isn’t urgent. The submissions become urgent only on the due date – however, the days before the due date are lost because of those urgent (though unimportant tasks) that demanded to be done first.

I too was led astray by some urgent matters! I hope to tune out the urgent but unimportant matters in the coming month; and attend to this dear blog of mine.


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