Finding advantages in learning online

The response to the global pandemic has forced dramatic shifts in the way classes are being taught at all levels, from pre-school through university and ongoing continuing education.

Trust me.

As someone who organized live business conferences for nearly 20 years, the transition to online isn’t an easy one. From a distance, I have watched my grandson entering first grade and having to shift to learning on-line after just one week of learning in-person. His younger brother has meet-ups by Zoom with his nursery school classmates, doing arts and crafts with materials dropped off by his teacher. A friend’s daughter, who finished high school (virtually) in June, entered university last month, without the traditional frosh week festivities and restricted to meeting her classmates in cloud based chat rooms. It can’t be the same immersive university experience that her older sister (who graduated in April) enjoyed. No graduation ceremonies. Diplomas arrived in the mail.

While each of these examples demonstrate a downside to the online experience, there are positive experiences emerging. Professor Mark Lautens of the University of Toronto wrote in Monday’s Globe and Mail, “Online learning can be eye-opening for both teachers and students”:

Professors are a fortunate lot. We get to interact with some of the brightest minds of the future when they are still at their most open and receptive. Traditionally students would travel great distances to gain the best education that was open to them. Now they rearrange their lives in order to learn and interact in real-time.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of online teaching and would never choose this option if given the choice. On the other hand, it might provide a way to service communities that have historically been underserviced and under-represented.

Life often gives us no choice or two less-than-ideal choices. These students have chosen to be deeply engaged, despite the inconvenience this presents. Our future may be brighter than we often imagine.

I have found time to participate in regular online luncheon learning in my community, thanks to being able to avoid commuting time to the location. More significantly, I was also able to frequently drop into a class being conducted online from San Francisco, joining my son for an hour each week. Over the summer, I participated in a couple sessions hosted by the Public Utilities Research Center at the University of Florida.

Unrestricted by the cost and time associated with travel and being able to avoid expensive accommodations, we now have the ability to participate in sessions around the world. You can pop into a class hosted in Florida in the morning and another in California for lunch.

I have started to participate in the webinar series offered by the International Telecommunications Society, gaining a global perspective on a wide variety of policy issues. The sessions are scheduled in the morning for the East Coast of North America, making it mid-afternoon in Europe and late night viewing in Asia. There was a global round-table on COVID notification apps last month, and coming up in the next few weeks, there are a couple sessions of interest to readers of this blog:

And of course, The Canadian Telecom Summit (virtual edition) is coming up next month, November 17-19.

In an environment with budgetary challenges due to the economic impact of the pandemic, virtual learning provides affordable access to global leaders. In the case of the ITS webinar series, registration is free.

As Professor Lautens wrote, given the choice I would prefer to engage with my colleagues face-to-face, up close and personal. But in the meantime, take the opportunity to undertake some continuing education. You just may find there can be advantages to learning online.

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