‘Distance Learning’ or ‘Connected Learning?’
- by Deirdre Woods
By early August, the fall semester was already under way at Wharton, as the MBA Class of 2012 arrived on campus for the beginning of their month-long pre-term program. Before our second-year MBA students, undergraduates and doctoral candidates arrived in September, the incoming MBA class had already engaged in the School’s immersive learning activities, many of which are aided by technology.
One of the most popular pre-term learning opportunities is the Wharton Securities Exchange (WSX), a fast-paced trading simulation taught by Professor Marshall E. Blume and developed by Wharton’s Alfred West Jr. Learning Lab.
All 817 first-year MBA students also completed Management 652, “Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership,” an intensive five-day course that combines extended computer-based simulations, video assignments and an increasingly complex set of challenges confronting the team members.
Later in the school year, students in both Wharton’s MBA and undergraduate programs will be exposed to multiple technology-enhanced simulations and interactive learning activities, many developed here at Wharton through the School’s Learning Lab. These computer-based learning exercises came to mind as I spoke with Wharton faculty and senior administrators at our annual Wharton Computing Showcase, in which we demonstrate new and emerging technologies in higher education.
A number of the new technologies that we’re exploring include new learning applications on mobile devices and on synchronous audio/video communications platforms—from high-definition video conferencing systems to immersive virtual environments. Many of these are commonly referred to as “distance learning” platforms. But I’m not convinced that “distance learning” is the right model for how these tools will ultimately impact education.
Rather than talking about distance learning, we need to focus on connected learning.
How can these communications platforms increase the connection between learning participants? Rather than replacing the traditional classroom environment, how can they enhance the classroom experience by maintaining a connection between students and teachers in between class sessions and creating a deeper level of engagement when they meet in person?
Just as our current learning simulations use computers to enhance—rather than replace—student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions, mobile devices, telepresence and other synchronous learning technologies will not eliminate the classroom. Rather, they will enhance the learning that takes place there.
It’s not just about bridging distance. It’s about increasing engagement.