Why the Classroom?

There's a debate raging.  In our internet-fueled society, learning is a mouse-click away for nearly any subject.  Online learning is the new paradigm for personal and career growth, with an abundance of research showing the benefits of remote education.  But does this mean the classroom is obsolete?  Why do regulatory agencies around the world place a much higher value on classroom learning?

Rapidly Evolving Landscape Makes Classroom Learning Ideal

While some online training is unquestionably valuable, it has severe limitations.  And the more specific the learning topic becomes, the more these limitations are apparent.  In fact, this factor may be the single most critical component for determining how a topic should be delivered.  When it comes to topics which are static with an overabundance of established information, online training is efficient.  This rarely applies to regulatory issues with changes occurring almost daily.  

In addition, the storehouse for more esoteric subjects lies in the experience of a practitioner and may not be readily digested for packaging on the Internet.  Here is where the classroom shines by bringing real-world industry leaders into a room full of real-world performers to let the ideas flow.

Regulation seems to be a particularly good example of this esotericism.  The rules that govern an industry are, by definition, in constant flux.  Their purpose is to adjust to the ever-changing landscape as circumstances evolve.  By the time new regulations are affecting a market, they have barely been analyzed by the industry they influence.  The nitty-gritty of how these changes affect practitioners remains months away via the Internet and, once available online, new regulations may have already superseded them.

Classroom Learning Facilitates the Rapid Exchange of Ideas

Bringing real-world experts into a classroom filled with those who need the information – now – allows for the rapid exchange of ideas.  Teachers are able to shed light on the short- and long-term effects of these rules based on their analysis of similar changes throughout their careers, separating the wheat from the chaff.  Students working in the field enrich the conversation with their own experiences and questions, turning the session into a brainstorm about what the new data actually means.

This live idea exchange may be the single biggest advantage of classroom over online, and is one of the most common feedbacks CfPIE receives.  The energetic exchange of ideas, in real time, with real experts, is the heart of the classroom.  While these exchanges can be somewhat duplicated online, the conversational time frames involved diffuse the energy and remove valuable context.

Classroom Learning Provides Valuable Networking Opportunities

In addition to the live-shaping of course content by the needs of the learners, another overlooked advantage of classroom training is the value of networking.  While online communities grow in both size and quality, there is an undeniable sterility.  The loss of interpersonal connection, body language, and reaction spontaneity cannot be found within the confines of a digital environment.  At best this leads to a cooling of the exchange, and at worst leads to misunderstandings that can spoil a valuable contact.

The live education experience does not start and stop at the classroom door.  Spirited conversations that start in the training session continue over coffee and breaks, stirring new ideas to be presented in class and elsewhere.  Relationships are started and strengthened.  Contacts are made.  Faces are known.

This was the opinion of Robin Dunbar, head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford.  In his 2016 paper,, he discussed the impact of social networking regarding friendships.  He speculated that the neurological limits for the maximum size of an individual's social group meant that face-to-face communication was critical for protecting friendships and social relationships.

"Given that people generally find interactions via digital media (including the phone as well as instant messaging and other text-based social media) less satisfying than face-to-face interactions, it may be that face-to-face meetings are required from time to time to prevent friendships [from succumbing to their natural pattern of decay.]"

This is a powerful statement regarding the benefit of a physical presence in both the learning and networking process for professionals.

There's also the factor of personal learning styles.  People are individuals with different preferences, talents, and levels of focus.  Personal learning curves are no different, and learning style is critical to the success of that person's education.  Many people thrive within the self-contained, self-directed environment online.  Others require the hands-on, personalized approach offered by a traditional classroom.

This is described by Nina Bencheva in her article, "Learning Styles and E-Learning Face-to-Face to the Traditional Learning".  Here she categorizes learning into three major spaces: Traditional classroom learning, E-Learning, and blended (a combination of classroom and online approaches).  She describes the advantages of classroom training, especially for students who may have compacted schedules or a limited ability to manage their time freely.

"While being able to work at your own pace can be an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage.  This is especially true for students who have difficulty with time management … For these students the traditional classroom method is more successful."

The bottom line is one of personality and individual needs.  While online training has certain advantages, it suffers in those areas demanding deep, specific knowledge of emerging subjects or subjects that may not have an abundance of pre-digested material available.  This is especially true in regulatory and scientific fields, where information changes rapidly and waiting on someone else's ruminations may actually make the information useless.

In addition, the student's learning style and end-goals are a critical determining factor in choosing classroom over online.  Online is great at raw facts.  It's not so good at building relationships or for gaining a rich understanding of the deeper implications of data.  Much of this understanding comes only from the subtleties found in one-on-one conversation and networking.  In these cases, a classroom environment can't be replaced.

5. Bencheva, Nina, Profile, Research Gate, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nina_Bencheva

6. Bencheva, Nina, Learning Styles and E-Learning Face-to-Face to the Traditional Learning, http://conf.uni-ruse.bg/bg/docs/cp10/3.2/3.2-11.pdf

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