I've been mulling over the idea of professional development lately. My colleague, Jillian, is putting together a survey to help us construct development/training program in the formats our audience wants to learn. The options were essentially face-to-face, online, or a blended format. So far, so good.
But that question has become a circular thought process for me because I prefer learning face-to-face because I am primarily an auditory/verbal learner yet I work in the online division of the university. My job is helping faculty develop the KSA's (knowledge, skills, and abilities) to be successful in the online environment. So I feel kind of hypocritical at times.
Full disclosure… I had a couple really pitiful attempts at learning online in the previous two decades. My fault entirely. I did not have the level of motivation and self-regulation necessary to be successful. But something else was missing too – the interested "voice" of the instructor. In both cases, I drifted away into oblivion without so much as a "You ok?" from the instructors.
Ok, so I am a social person. I am definitely a relationship-oriented person. If I feel invested and connected in a learning environment I will work my tail off to be successful. In retrospect, what was missing for me both times was a sense of my classmates & instructors as people and as a community of learners.
Today I received an email from one of the instructors who teaches online for Penn State. She said her students felt like they were getting all kinds of personal attention because she sends them notes each week. I could feel her excitement at this sense of community and positive energy. What a great thing! Made me reflect on whether I could be successful in her course.
In all honesty, most of my out-of-class learning occurs online – doing research in the library databases, perusing Google Scholar, Googling everything that happens in life that I am curious about. I am comfortable learning online. I ENJOY learning online. I would not enjoy walking through the library stacks and having to drag around 20 books or photocopying hundreds of trees worth of paper from microfiche.
Yet, I still question whether I could be AS successful if I was in a totally online course because sitting in a room with other people discussing the topic-of-the-day is where I thrive. Would I get the same level of critical thinking online? Would I want to, or be able to, engage my fellow students in conversations to the same degree? I don't know.
What's funny or possibly ironic is that I think I could be a good online instructor. I think as the TEACHER I could build a community, asking thoughtful questions, pushing students to go further in their learning process. Because I love the online environment I feel confident that it would translate successfully to teaching online. So why don't I feel as confident that it would translate to learning online? Round and round and round I go.
So, to answer my colleague Jillian's question, right now I would prefer face-to-face or blended. Though I feel this mental block I have towards learning online is something I need to push through. I think that at some point I will need to challenge myself to give it a try when it really matters – not a course for fun or a practice course because they are too easy to quit. But a real course that matters. That way I might have a built in sense of importance and motivation that could give me the oomph I need to push through. And be successful.