“The traditional classroom is dead”.
This is the crowd chant since learning systems moved online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The current pandemic forced many activities to shift to cyberspace, including the traditional classroom. Fortunately, most communities were familiar with digital learning technologies when the lockdowns started. Various platforms were available at their disposal. Even if the teacher and learner weren’t physically together it was possible to connect with each other. All was well and good once again, right?
It has been one year since my school moved all classes to online platforms. I am yet to be convinced that this is a replacement for the traditional classroom environment. I am a big fan of using lesson videos in teaching. And my firm belief is it should be used only as a supplemental tool in classroom teaching. Never as a replacement for the teacher themself.
Here is why:
 Reusing content every year can be made interesting in a traditional classroom.
I have been teaching for the last 20 years. When you do anything for that many years, you run the risk of being stuck in a rut. ‘Teacher Burnout’ is a reality and is something I have been trying hard to escape from.
When a teacher repeats the same content year after year without any change in methods — that’s when things get spiritless.
Old content can be reused in many interesting ways. Newer, better examples can be used to clarify a concept rather than the same old one getting reused. Students change every year. The teacher can use innovative classroom exercises with the involvement of a different set of students.
As opposed to this, the use of video lectures has the risk of turning boring for students. A study conducted by Dr. Scott Jensen from University of The Pacific showed 22% of students had the opinion the video lecture class was boring and they were easily distracted. A whopping 68% of students said in-class lectures were interactive and kept their attention.
A teacher can create more engaging learning experiences than provided by reusing the same old video. Yes, the content of the video can be updated but the resources involved would be much more for the same outcome, when compared to classroom teaching.
 Live lecture in the traditional classroom vs. ‘dead lecture’ in videos
I believe it is called a ‘live’ lecture due to the interactive nature of the activity. When the teacher and student are physically together, learner doubts can be cleared better. Nobody can deny that knowledge is seldom gained in a one-way transfer of thoughts. In this sense, the traditional classroom is a fertile ground for the germination of new ideas. The zestful articulation of the teacher has always captured the imagination of students.
The video lecture is pre-recorded content being played without any interactivity by the learner — unless you would call pressing Play, Pause, Stop, Rewind as interaction.
This is what Dr. Scott Jensen says in the concluding remarks of his study which compared in-class and online video lectures:
“Although the idea of viewing class lectures online is appealing to students, in practice, students report problems with staying motivated to view the lectures, and in fact significant decreases in both class attendance and accessing of the online content were witnessed.”Dr. Scott Jensen, University of The Pacific
Inside a classroom, several exchanges occur between the teacher and the student, between the teacher and classmates, between the student and classmates. All have an impact on the learning outcomes of the student.
 The positive impact of peers in traditional classrooms.
The social and physical interaction in the traditional classroom has a huge impact on the learner. Any gaps in one’s understanding can be bridged by classmates. A student could be influenced by classmates who perform well in class.
A study has revealed that such behavior is contagious. A student may adjust his or her effort level upward in the current period when surrounded by peers with high effort levels. Thus, in-person classes help academically weaker students benefit from stronger peers. Students of traditional instructional methods enjoy many benefits over those of digital learning.
- They get encouragement from classmates
- Students in a traditional classroom study faster than students who study alone.
- They get exposed to different methods of study from peers.
- They reinforce their own learning when they teach classmates
- There is lesser chance of procrastination
Students who watch lesson videos wouldn’t verbalize ideas and concepts as those in a traditional classroom. Research has pointed out that such learners experience difficulties even leading to distress and depression.
 Traditional classrooms can be customized for individual learner differences.
Learning is primarily a socio-cognitive process. Therefore, how each person internalizes their educational experience depends on many factors unique to each. Understanding each student’s individual characteristics will help to devise effective methods for each. The traditional classroom teaching method has been doing this successfully.
E-learning may not be equally beneficial for all. In fact, many would feel bored or intimidated by them. Students with low self-regulatory skills would not benefit from such learning. In such a learning environment students often find themselves lacking the motivation to carry on.
There is a higher drop-out rate for such courses than the traditional ones. One reason is, it doesn’t have a mechanism to evaluate learner differences. Yet another is the absence of customized solutions.
 Digital learning systems are less pocket-friendly in comparison to traditional classrooms.
A video lesson needs to be created by transferring the ideas from the teacher’s mind onto a visual medium. This involves the teacher being recorded while he or she delivers the lecture, either by self or by another person.
While creating the lesson, care has to be taken regarding the fair use of copyrighted material. Legal owners of images, videos, and audio needs to be remunerated before they can be used.
In the future when the content requires updating, the above needs to be repeated. E-learning systems require the existence of infrastructures such as high bandwidth networks, fast computers, and other necessary digital devices. All this would involve quite some investment of time, money, and effort. Needless to say, developing countries would prefer traditional classroom teaching as it is more pocket-friendly.
“Inequalities in digital readiness hamper the ability of large parts of the world to take advantage of technologies that help us cope with the coronavirus pandemic by staying at home.”Shamika Sirimanne (Director of Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD)
 E-learners have a higher chance of distraction than the traditional classroom student .
Let us say while reading this article your phone beeps. As usual, you will check the message and even send a reply. Maybe a roommate, family member, or the cat grabs your attention. You interact with them and eventually get back to reading. Some would call this behavior multi-tasking. In education, it is known as ‘Distracted Learning’. Here is a study if you need more information on this.
A student engaging in activities unrelated to the subject being learned is a big problem. If attention is divided during the learning process, it would affect the long-term retention of information. It could lead to knowledge with less application possibility. Switching back and forth between different tasks causes mental fatigue and leads to negative student performance.
“Evidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success — the new marshmallow test of self-discipline — is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.”Annie Murphy Paul
In a traditional classroom, chances of the student getting carried away by distractions are comparatively less due to the teacher’s presence and other students. Many times, students who rely on lesson videos may find themselves studying alone regularly. In this situation, there are more chances of succumbing to distractions.
Can the video lecture — or any digital learning system — eliminate the traditional classroom learning?
Video lecture has an important place in learning, no doubt. Watching ‘lecture capture recording’ along with live lectures is known to give good results. It can be well used to supplement classroom teaching. Thus, it is not more than a tool in the hands of a good teacher.
The best education system is one that embraces individual differences, encompasses all income brackets, and enthuses all students to achieve more. Can any of the present digital learning systems claim to do this?
I don’t think so.
Until then, the teacher and the students have to meet in a brick-and-mortar classroom.
Further Reading: How to Become a Good Writer – The Complete Beginner’s Guide