There’s a trend in education that scares me even more than the poverty level wages and standardized testing. That trend has to do with online and mobile classes in which the majority, if not all, course material is exchanged electronically. Some of my friends have earned online degrees, and I’m not trying to offend them or insult their education. For some, that system works, but what worries me is what we lose from education when there is limited human interaction between the teacher and students.
Education is about more than the quantifiable data bureaucrats can measure and mull. In fact, standardized testing is one of the worst measures of education there is, but that’s another debate, not the focus of this entry. Education, quality education, is not about memorizing data and recalling it in a multiple choice scenario. Quality education is about learning how to think critically for yourself, how to behave publicly, and how to interact with each other in a civilized manner. To me, all three are equally important, but with online and mobile education, the last two are hardly an afterthought.
Because the interaction is limited to emails, texts, and chats, the depths of dynamic human communication, most of which is nonverbal, is lost from the system. Basic public conduct, such as listening intently, is not engaged. Talking one-on-one, one of the most fundamental aspects of all human behavior, is also left out. The end result is a populace with under-developed social skills and a general loss of fundamental manners/etiquette. We are already seeing the effects of this in businesses that rely on teenagers and twenty-somethings for their workforce. Customer service is abysmal, and simple courtesy is rare. As education shifts more and more away from human interaction to electronic discourse, human behavior will continue to erode.
I’m not one who believes education is the answer to all of our problems. There is only so much the system can do to improve what is absent from children and young adults’ home life, but basic human interaction is one area where educators can have an impact. Unfortunately, in a misguided effort to assimilate with the now prevalent over-dependence on electronics, educators are losing the ability to teach these fundamental and imperative skills.
There is no magic bullet that will solve this crisis, and as someone on the front-lines of education, I know it has reached crisis status. Until some measure of autonomy is returned to educators and unless we can lessen the dependence on electronic gadgets for every aspect of our lives, we will continue to see worse and worse social skills. That worries me for our future, for the kind of society we are creating. Interpersonal communication is the touchstone of nearly every human endeavor, and without it, we will regress into a much more primitive culture.