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Have Computers Made Humans Obsolete?

Author - Donna Mortlock

Current NCVER research on the quality and effectiveness of VET courses that are delivered completely online is due for release in August 2019. One of the questions they will attempt to answer is - “In comparing fully online learning to other delivery methods, are there any differences in completions, learner satisfaction with the training, and employment outcomes”?

I suspect the outcomes will be a mixed bag however, anecdotal evidence over several years has shown us that face-to-face delivery is beneficial for many training courses and even vital for some.
Learning technologies augment the effectiveness of training and they have increased learner access to a broader range of training globally. But here’s why we should be wary of them luring organisations and learners away from the classroom.

1. Not Everything Can Be Taught By A Computer

Customer service, health, childcare, hospitality and retail are only a few of vocational training areas where total online delivery may be inappropriate and possibly educationally unsound.  Soft skills, which are arguably the most poorly addressed skill set in the workforce, need human interaction to be taught and learned effectively. 

Consider communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, negotiation and leadership.   Through observation and interaction, experienced trainers can gauge whether a learner is “getting it” or struggling.  They will know when a well formed question or response is the key to helping learners reach that moment of insight and understanding. 

2. Real Interaction Builds Connection, Communication And Interpersonal Skills

In an ever increasing technological world, it’s easy to relate to others in a superficial way.  Social media allows us to follow what our friends are doing but not what they are experiencing or feeling.  Online chats, forums and webinars can never truly replace face-to-face discussion with all its non-verbal nuances and opportunities to share and learn collaboratively.   

Simply being in a training room with other people builds trust, rapport, networks and influence.  It facilitates the sharing of ideas and improves communication skills and the ability to read people.   All these things are particularly important for teams working on common projects or goals.  Putting a face to the name or voice over the phone often does more to build connection and collaboration than anything else.   

Face-to-face training also facilitates the exchange of the information, ideas and concerns that may not be expressed in other formats – and this is great for problem solving.

3. Learners Are More Committed And Focused 

There’s enormous value in getting away from daily responsibilities and dedicating time to learn something new.    Scheduling and committing to face-to-face training signifies its importance to the learner and allows them to be focussed.    Learners often try to fit self-paced, online learning into their normal routine and this can quickly become overwhelming and unsustainable.   

Instructor-led, face-to-face training must never become obsolete. As learners and humans, we have too much to lose.