Where Every Seat is a Front Row Seat

In theory a college classroom should be an area where students can learn equitably. Listening to lectures, engaging in compelling discussions and absorbing knowledge from instructors and other students is the cornerstone of a quality learning environment.

The reality, however, can be very different. In some cases a student can monopolize the discussion through an assertive speaking style or by assuming their interruptions are normal “discourse”. In others a student may simply be less able to “think on their feet” and can’t raise their hand in time. Kind of like the Jeopardy contestant who knows all the answers but hasn’t figured out the timing on the buzzer.

Two very common problems with a typical classroom are either a physical or personality issue. In a lecture hall with dozens or even hundreds of students it simply isn’t practical to regularly engage in a discussion. Students can literally be in the back row and that row can be yards from the stage.

A problem that can particularly impact an adult student is a reluctance to even try to answer a question or engage in a class discussion. A student who is new to a college environment, new to the subject or is just plain shy doesn’t want to feel “stupid” and won’t risk raising their hand. Their general or situational lack of assertiveness can impede their ability to get the most out of their learning experience.

I mention this issue because it also illustrates a particular advantage in an online learning environment. Most online degree courses have a component based on a threaded classroom discussion. Essentially an instructor will post a question or topic, and students are required to respond not only to that post, but to a certain number of posts by other students.

Not only does this encourage regularly and substantive interaction, it puts everyone on the same level in terms of the opportunity to be involved in and learn from the conversation. In many on-ground courses a student can literally go through an entire term, never raise their hand, and get an “A” in the course. In an online class participation is mandatory in order to succeed, and it mimics what many adults students are doing on Facebook every day!

In addition to empowering students to include their individual content as part of the learning experience, a well-designed online course can enhance engagement in subjects that traditionally have a “tactile” component.

I had a conversation recently with the leader of an online college that is an innovator in distance learning. He mentioned an instructor concerned about developing an online course because she typically displayed bones in the lecture hall for discussion and study. What she learned, however, is that in the online course she could go even further, providing closeups of the bones and individual segments each with a narrative and a deep level of detail.

She could provide each online student with an experience that their counterpart in the back row of a lecture hall just couldn’t have.

In other words, in the online class every seat was a front row seat.

As employers assess the pros and cons of online learning it’s important to understand the unique advantages that the online environment can provide. When done well, your employee has the opportunity to engage with the content in a way that individualizes their education and helps them get more detailed and more varied input for their dollar.