Most U.S. adults between say they learn more information from technology than through human interaction, with an even greater percentage of millennials reporting the same, according to a new survey — a reality which underscores both challenges and opportunities college educators face with balancing technological integration and traditional in-person instruction.
Technology is here to stay, but in-person interaction still valued
The survey released last week was conducted by Growing Leaders, a nonprofit specializing in leadership training and development, and it surveyed 2,264 adults over the age of 18 earlier this year. In the results, 58% of respondents said they learned more from technology than people, with 69% of millennials from ages 18-34 stating the same.
But at the same time, 70% of U.S. adults expressed concern that children today will not be adequately prepared for adult life after grade school, and at the same time only 67% of millennials feel like they were adequately prepared for post-grade school life — compared to 83% of Baby Boomers over the age of 65.
The survey results also showed some discrepancies between genders, with 33% of millennial males indicating they strongly agreed that they learned more from technology than people, and only 19% of female respondents saying the same.
The results call into question whether tech tools, as they continue to become more accessible, affordable and detailed, will overhaul the traditional model of higher education instruction. With the rise in online learning programs and degrees, as well as an increase in the number of nontraditional learners, many would say that the typical college experience has become an outdated model.
However while technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, many surveys indicate that students still value the experience of in-person instruction and students interaction.
According to a survey conducted earlier this year, 60% of online students indicated they wanted to be able to interact personally with professors and other students. And, the desire for physical interaction also extends to source material. Dr. Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, argues that most students actually prefer print materials to online resources. In her research and survey of more than 400 university students, 92% of student respondents said they learned better when using print.
“What this means to me is we have an interesting and problematic disconnect between what students are feeling and what school systems and universities are encouraging,” she said.
Finding the right balance presents instructional opportunity
Value for traditional instruction presents educators with an opportunity to include tech tools in reinforcing the strengths of in-person education, rather outright replacing it.
In a recent question-and-answer session with the Association of College and University Educators, Dr. Stephen Brookfield, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN said the conventional setup of a professor lecture should not dissuade educators from participatory instruction, including using technology.
“Just because you’re in an auditorium, with fixed rows of seating, doesn’t mean you should not do those things. As a teacher, I feel you have to work with what you’re given, and I’m not going to stop doing all these participatory activities just because I’m in a big auditorium,” he said.
“You have to engineer regular opportunities for them to be involved, by asking questions and getting everybody to respond—through social media or by using clicker poll questions and by having a live feed open during the class. That allows students to ask questions anytime.”
Brookfield also said it is important to encourage and model interactions between students, as opposed to letting the classroom discussion remain a fixed interaction between the instructor and one or two students. In this ACUE post, Brookfield writes about how he offers prompts to encourage discussion between students, including asking others in a class to agree or disagree with one student’s assessment of some educational material.
He also wrote that it's difficult for an instructor to be able to personally work with every student who might be underperforming — particularly problematic in MOOCs or other online programs with high enrollment— so he tries to link underperforming students with those who have started to improve their work in the classroom.
“You want to link up an underprepared student to someone who was also underprepared but you think has made a little bit more forward movement in the trajectory of their understanding; the person who’s recently been struggling is the best person to help those who are struggling right now,” he said. “Someone who’s never struggled with understanding the material doesn’t really know what the struggler is talking about.”
In a recent Education Dive interview, Bob Monroe, a Carnegie Mellon professor with the Tepper School of Business, argued that it was unlikely that MOOCs would replace typical college lectures, and that the challenge for online learning programs is to not try to imitate the in-person classroom experience, but discern what is unique about an online approach. The same challenge also applies to in-person instruction, with Brookfield and other experts offering suggestions on how to make an in-person education unique.