Can e-Education effectively simulate conventional Education?

At the two ends of the e-Education (distance Education) spectrum lie the e-Teaching and the e-Learning processes. Indisputably, the dimension of effectiveness of e-Teaching has a paramount impact on the outcome and quality of e-Learning. On the other hand, the dimension of effectiveness depends heavily on the underlying technologies, practices, and policies employed as facilitators to both processes. It also depends on the blend of synchronous and asynchronous e-Education as well as the digital platforms used to deliver each type of e-Education.

The major pillars in the course of e-Learning are the tutors, the students, technical support, and the Management of the Institution delivering Education. Amongst the aforementioned, the Management of the Institution carries a core role that should focus on the technological infrastructure and its required capabilities, needed for supporting e-Education over the entire continuum of the teaching-learning process. The reference to ‘supporting e-Education’ takes on a specific meaning that links to how any such e-Education system can be an optimum simulation of the conventional Education (c-Education) process.

The success of such a simulation lies in the ability of the technological infrastructure to replicate all or as many of the simple and complicated actions of teaching and learning conducted in a physical/real classroom environment. The formulation of a better understanding of the major underlying issues can be established by considering fundamental parameters pertinent to the tutor, the student, pedagogy, and social distancing.

The tutor, as the person who manages the process of teaching should be enabled by technology to transfer knowledge, motivate students, interact with students, receive feedback from students, and encourage student class participation. Furthermore, the tutor should be empowered to control and direct class participation, distribute group work material to specific groups of students within the e-classroom, assign specific tasks to individual students or groups of students during the online teaching session, collect any work produced by the students during the online session, instigate activities that induce the creativity of students, evaluate the effort of students as well as the entire process, etc.

Students, as the major constituent of the learning process and the ultimate receptors of its outcome, should be enabled by the online platform to engage in activities that facilitate the learning process as perceived by each student in her/his capacity as a distinct entity. Essential activities are linked to the effective interaction between the student and the tutor (observation of facial reactions and gestures), appropriate interactions between the student and the rest of the students in the classroom, ability to raise the hand and be granted permission to pose a question or make a comment, effectively work in a group, benefit from evolving group dynamics, develop competencies and skills based on the content of the delivered curricula, etc.

The c-Education process has been traditionally considered as a prime vehicle that may securely facilitate the achievement of multifaceted pedagogical objectives; objectives that extend beyond the simple boundaries of learning and mere knowledge acquisition. Indeed, the aim is of grave importance and inevitably non-detachable from Education regardless of the Education means by which it is delivered. The ultimate focus of pedagogy should be the generation of contemporary and well integrated individuals capable of undertaking a substantially ethical and active role in society. The physical presence of teachers and learners in a common space may be imperative for achieving the aforementioned.  It is rather uncertain whether e-Education can take up to the challenge with distinct procedures that effectively promote this facet of pedagogy.

The use of e-Education may constitute a generating source of risks encumbering the psychological status of participants. The absence of personalised (face-to-face) interactions gained when sharing a common space may lead to the induction of a feeling of apartness. That is, a social distancing that may act as an inhibitor to the actions and feelings of belonging to the group/community and thus an initiator of an alienation process as well as serious psychological problems.

Conclusively, the evolvement of e-Education is progressing in huge strides and the prospect of an effective replication of c-Education remains strong. However, the existence of significant impediments in the development of an effective simulation process inhibits the endeavour and disallows the claim for the successful formulation of an effective e-Education model in the near future.