I have always felt a certain trepidation about the whole virtual university and e-learning business. As a teacher I always enjoy the face-to-face contact I have with students. I can immediately see the effect of my teaching on them and adjust accordingly, if and when needed. Also, the lively atmosphere in the classroom adds to our mutual energy levels and well-being, and we often have just plain fun. With courses that are being taught through the internet or e-learning modules all this is not really possible. Granted, teaching this way supposedly is more efficient and many more people can be reached than just the thirty or so students in a class room. But still I never really felt completely comfortable about virtual teaching and digital education because I felt less effective.
Image my delight when the results of a recent study into the differences between a ‘live’ teacher and a ‘virtual’ teacher were made public. Two scientists from Rutgers University in New jersey, Arnold Glass and Neha Sinha, conducted an experiment which had the goal (and I now quote from the abstract of their article): “…to determine whether performance on a subsequent exam was affected when two lessons were as similar as possible except that one was presented in class and the other was presented online. In a hybrid course, half of the lessons were presented in the classroom as narrated Power Point presentations and half of the lessons were presented online as narrated Power Point presentations. Online student–teacher interaction took place in a chatroom. Furthermore, for each question on the midterm or final examination, the students had answered a pre-lesson and post-lesson question, integrated with the appropriate lesson, which queried the same fact statement as the exam question. Students performed better on post-lesson questions asked in class than post-lesson questions asked online. They also performed better on exam questions on classroom lessons than exam questions on online lessons. The results support the conclusion that social interaction aids learning.”
You see, I said to myself, I knew it: direct interaction between teacher and student is important for effective knowledge transfer. But wait, this same effect, the positive consequences of direct contact, also occurs in high performance organizations and high-performance partnerships! After all, one of the most important HPO characteristics is ‘Management frequently engages in a dialogue with employees’ and almost by definition you cannot have an effective and meaningful dialogue when you are not in the same room, meeting face-to-face and looking each other in the eye. Yes, you could argue that a dialogue is also possible when skyping or using another digital tool, but then I’ll let you in on a piece of research which I recently did, and which will be published in my forthcoming book Achieving Enduring Excellence, how to build the high performance organization in Practice. I looked at the effectiveness of interventions organizations applied during their transformation to HPO, and found that the most effective ones are those that create platforms for dialogue: dialogue between management and employees, between managers themselves, between employees themselves, and between the organizations and its stakeholders. These platforms mostly are physical in nature: people meet each other at regular interventions in the same room, to talk, exchange experiences and ideas, and to bond. My findings are supported by the high-performance partnership (HPP) research where one of the HPP factors is actually called ‘Closeness’ and consists of the characteristics ‘Our partner regularly has face-to-face contact with us’, ‘Our partner is physically located close to us’ and ‘Our partner regularly meets us in person.’
The above it is all about building and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships between individuals, which means that people need to be able to have open and honest, face-to-face communication, and a high level of interaction. Therefore, in this day of advancing technology, I would like to make a stand for good old-fashioned physical connection between people who meet each other, are interested in each other, and want to look each other in the eye because they care about the other. After all, we are human and humans still are social beings!
Glass, A.L. and Sinha, N. (2018), Classroom instruction results in better exam performance than online instruction in a hybrid course, The Journal of General Psychology, Vol. 145, No. 4, pp. 1-15