Many course developers see electronic delivery of instruction, whether synchronous or asynchronous, as inherently inferior to classroom based-delivery. Decades of media comparison studies indicate that the medium does not matter, that the same course delivered once in a classroom and once online should lead to the same results as long as the instructional design of the course is held constant. This seems counterintuitive, as a virtual environment lacks the same sense of presence and is much easier to multi-task in than a classroom environment, but I was able to replicate this effect at McGladrey. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to compare learning between a course delivered one via classroom and once via webcast, and the gains were identical.
That said, media equivalency only holds true if the course design is constant, and it is true that classroom-based learning does offer some options that are hard to replicate electronically. Small group problem solving is much easier, or at least more efficient, when everyone is physically present, for example.
Therefore, when developers have more content than classroom time, I generally recommend that they focus the classroom time on the parts of the course where physical proximity makes a difference, such as complex, open-ended problem solving, where answers are actively debated, or where explanations involve back and forth exchanges. Or even areas of content that they know are going to generate lots of specific questions. That’s not to say these areas can’t be dealt with electronically, but classrooms are more naturally geared to these kinds of exchanges. The idea of flipped classrooms is based on this conception of making the best use of classroom time.
Also, if networking is a priority, classroom is king.
The key here is how to keep the highly interactive, more open-ended materials in the classroom without creating a very passive experience for the (often more theory-based) materials offloaded to electronic media. “It’s OK if the webcast is boring because it is just background for the live class” should not be an option. Any material can be made meaningfully interactive as long as there are clear learning objectives.
Once you’ve decided that the best way to deliver a certain piece of content is electronically, the next decision is whether to deliver it synchronously (webcast) or asynchronously (self-study). More about this next week.