As communication technologies progress and improve, remote education becomes less of a theoretical concept, and more of reality made manifest. Moreover, recent events associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding lockdown and social distancing measures increase the importance of remote education even more. When personal contact is strictly limited, learning remotely becomes not merely an option but a necessity.
As experience demonstrates, it is possible to organize remote education, and this method of teaching has its obvious advantages. Despite these benefits, one should remember that learning remotely comes with a set of problems that are not common to education as a whole but specific to the remote nature of the process. Despite the numerous advantages it provides, there are multiple and justified concerns about its quality, its practicability, and possible absolute dominance in the future. People may point out that remote education allows for preparing for studies better and is just as effective in delivering knowledge as traditional education, but neither of these notions addresses the problem fully. As of now, remote education is flawed, as are arguments in its favor.
Partisans of remote education sometimes state that it can be even better than the traditional one in terms of learner attention and concentration. The underlying premises of this statement are fairly straightforward and admittedly make sense. To begin with, remote education saves time and, thus, provides for better time management. If a person spends an hour that would otherwise be spent commuting to get a better night’s sleep, it is reasonable to assume that said person will be able to concentrate better when the time comes to study.
Another reason why proponents of remote education emphasize its alleged superiority in terms of student attention is that remote educators have their means of capturing the students’ attention in remote learning. As Dhawan notes in his article for the Journal of Educational Technology Systems, the range of available techniques includes different forms of interactivity, time limits, and reminders, as well as some other options (5). From this perspective, one may claim that remote education is, at the very least, only not harmful to the student’s attention and concentration and can be better in this respect than the traditional one.
However, this counterargument misses the critical point because the root of the problem with student concentration in remote education is largely neurological. Human brains are evolutionally wired to pay more attention to the things and people that are present in the same physical space rather than those communicating across a distance. As noted by psychologist and brain scientist Thalia Wheatley, face-to-face interaction allows “sharing a moment in time and space with someone,” which is “incredibly compelling for [humans’] ancient brains” (Samuels 44). Remote education is currently not capable of providing the same experience as a personal interaction between people in the same room, and paying less attention to it is an instinctive reaction on a neurological level.
Proponents of remote education may also object that online schooling does not lower the quality of education because it is just as capable of delivering knowledge as traditional education. There is certainly some truth to this counterargument: an educator in an e-classroom lectures the students in roughly the same manner as the educator in a physical auditorium. Once again, Dhawan points out that many institutions have successfully shifted to remote education during the COVID-19 pandemic, which seems to justify this approach (3-4). Hence, partisans of remote learning may argue that traditional education offers no meaningful advantages in terms of acquiring knowledge.
While it might be true when it comes to theory, the objection above does not consider the practice. Although a proponent of remote learning, Dhawan admits that education can never reach its full potential until students apply their newly acquired knowledge, and in some fields, this application can only be physical (5).
From surgery to music, there are many disciplines where theoretical knowledge is woefully insufficient on its own, and one can only achieve excellence by repetitive physical performance combined with continuous feedback. It is certainly feasible to imagine the technology that would imitate physical action precisely across large distances, thus potentially removing this obstacle. Yet the current state of remote education does not go that far – while it allows receiving knowledge, it is of limited importance when acquiring skills.
As one can see, remote education can have significant disadvantages that should be taken into account, especially considering its increased prominence in the contemporary world. While there are arguments that stress its alleged benefits and superiority, these do not stand up to criticism too well. As demonstrated above, remote education is not particularly effective in terms of maintaining student attention or developing practical skills. With these considerations in mind, one may safely conclude that tried and tested traditional education is still superior to remote learning in many respects. Education would likely suffer, should remote learning become a rule of thumb, and the relative weakness of arguments in its favor highlights it.
Dhavan, Shivangi. “Online Learning: A Panacea in the Time of COVID-19 Crisis.” Journal of Educational Technology Systems, vol. 49, no. 1, 2020, pp. 5-22. Web.
Samuels, Alana. “Does Remote Work Actually Work?” Time, vol. 196, no. 9, 2020, pp. 42-47. Web.