The sustaining convergence: Online Learning and Face to Face

Erik Hanson, Director of Appleton eSchool at Appleton Area School District
Erik Hanson, Director of Appleton eSchool at Appleton Area School District

Erik Hanson, Director of Appleton eSchool at Appleton Area School District

In 2019, one can argue that the idea of mainstream looks a lot different.  The online space continues to influence (put pressure on) the education and commercial spaces.  Let's take a moment to take a look around:

• Over 60% of product web searches begin on Amazon.com
• Car delivery companies (Carvana) and a car/energy company (Tesla) work directly with the consumer via online stores.  People are purchasing cars without ever seeing them in person and having them delivered to their driveway.
• Grocery pick up (order online and pick up in the Walmart parking lot) at Walmart has been a major contributor to Walmart’s success in the past few years. In fact, Walmart is now the number one grocer in the United States and the world.
• In 2015, 50% of students, as part of their campus experience, attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were taking at least one online course.
• In 2017, at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, WI, 1 in every 5 courses were offered exclusively online. 
• In 2018, nearly 30% of Appleton Area School District (Appleton, WI) graduates had taken at least one online eSchool course.
• The national center for education statistics (NCES) shows about 33% of college and university students choose at least one online course.
• In 2019, a current high school student reported to me that Best Buy store employees are required to complete online training before being placed on the sales floor to sell products in their stores.

Post high school readiness has always been a valid talking point as we look to prepare our high school graduates for a successful future.  In my experience, the online component tends to be missed or prioritized low when looked at through the lens of an entire k-12 student education experience.  I am not writing to tell the reader that the online world is more important or should replace our human face to face world.  I am here to point out that the online world is a major factor in our day to day operations in most aspects in the “business of our lives.”

  The a la carte model enables students to take an online course with an online teacher in addition to other face-to-face courses, which often provides students with more flexibility over their schedules​  

More and more people are working full time out of their homes.   Visits to the office are not the only or necessarily the best options now to conduct business.   That doesn’t mean that teams of people do not get together, they do.  Organizations have offices or places of business, yet businesses are also renting spaces at hotels, conference centers, restaurants (for example) to bring together their workforce.    Companies continue to spend millions of dollars flying human beings around the world to have face to face meetings.  In my opinion, as a human being, replacing the full human face to face environment as we know it today is likely impossible or not advised or desired.

Today, employers are asking workers to be able to work independently, collaborate and have face to face people skills when groups come together for targeted meetings or events.  Each aspect (online & face to face) is important and the readiness component of each attribute should be addressed when preparing our students for success today and in their futures.

The idea of blended learning has been incubating for over a decade now.  According to the Clayton Christensen Institute, blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns part online and part away from home.  In the part online piece, students must have some element of control over the time, place, path, or pace of their learning. In the part away from home piece, students must also be learning in a brick-and-mortar location away from home.

The concept of blended learning looks to be matching the growing trends of how Amazon and Walmart conduct a vast mainstream of business across the United States and world. Both have extensive online and face to face presences.  Amazon has purchased grocer Whole Foods and now has several smallface to face Amazon locations. Not to mention that Amazon has partnered with Kohls retail stores for face to face returns.  Also note that Walmart is a traditional big box store who now has moved into the online space to become the largest grocer in the world.  Both examples show how each industry giant is moving towards a blend of both worlds to best meet the needs of consumers. 

The 2019 environment matches very well with the a la carte blended learning model.  This model is where learners learn online as part of their experience.  The a la carte model enables students to take an online course with an online teacher in addition to other face-to-face courses, which often provides students with more flexibility over their schedules.  The key here is that there are both face to face and online environments that are able to operate independently of one another, yet compliment the full experience for the learner. 

If one asks a room full of people if they have purchased a gift for someone via an online retailer, nearly 100% of hands will go up in the air, nearly every time.   In 2019, is online more mainstream than it is not? In 2020, will we continue to see the same trends unfold?  Likely.Let’s consider the important readiness factors of online learning for all of our learners and remember to include online learning as part of what we do.

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