CONTRIBUTORSElite AgentMindset and Personal Development

Shane Kempton: online learning is cheaper but what’s the human cost?

Post Covid, some organisations have continued providing most, or all, of their professional development via online platforms as a way to save costs (travel, speakers, venue hire etc), while pushing the agenda of “convenience” for their end users, but, is there an even bigger cost and unseen detrimental impact this is having on people’s health?

Humans are pack animals. We are better together compared to being isolated and alone.

This applies to learning and development options, especially off the back of Covid, where the only option at the time, was online professional development.

This served as a great temporary solution, and while learning platforms offer many benefits, they should not be seen as the “new normal”. There are also some disadvantages to consider.

Before we drill down and get specific about the advantages and disadvantages of in-person versus online learning, it’s important to get some context and understand why humans are ‘better together’.

Firstly, from a mental health perspective, it can reduce stress.

When we interact and socialise with others, our brains release hormones such as oxytocin, which can promote feelings of wellbeing and help to reduce stress levels.

On the flip side, social isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression.

When we get together with others and socialise regularly, it can help boost our mood and improve mental health, promote better cognitive performance, and has been linked to lowering the risk of depression and some forms of dementia.

Secondly, getting together with others can improve our physical health.

Studies have shown that people who are more socially connected tend to have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

Socialising with others can also help to increase motivation levels, particularly when it comes to physical activity.

Joining a social group or team sport can provide the motivation and support needed to stay physically active and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Humans often perform better, both physically and mentally, when they are around others.

It is essential to make time for social interaction and maintain strong connections with friends, family, and other members of the community to enjoy these benefits.

When we apply the health benefits of social gatherings to learning and development, there are many positive human advantages to ‘in-person’ learning in environments like conferences, workshops, and in-house training sessions, which offer many benefits that cannot be fully replicated by online learning.

These include:

Nonverbal communication: In-person learning allows us to pick up on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, which can provide important context and information. This information can be difficult to fully interpret over online learning platforms.

Improved social connections: In-person learning allows us to build and maintain stronger social connections. This can be especially important for networking and building professional relationships.

Reduced distractions: When meeting in-person, there are fewer potential distractions, such as other open tabs on a computer, email notifications, pets or family members in the background.

Better engagement: In-person learning and interactions often lead to better engagement and more active participation in discussions. Participants may feel more invested in the conversation and more accountable to stay engaged.

More authentic experiences: In-person interactions can provide a more authentic experience, as participants are more likely to be themselves and feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings.

With ‘only online’ learning, the physical and mental health benefits of socialisation are removed, which can increase the risks that come prolonged isolation, while limiting networking opportunities for students and the chance to build connections with peers.

It’s worth considering that the learning experience from online learning can also be negatively impacted by other tangible factors such as:

Limited interaction: One of the most significant disadvantages of online learning is the limited interaction between students and instructors. Online learning can feel isolating for some students, as they may not have the same level of access to their instructors and peers as they would in a traditional classroom.

Technical issues: Technical issues, such as poor internet connection or hardware problems, can impact the learning experience. These issues can cause frustration for students and instructors and disrupt the flow of the course.

Self-discipline: Online learning requires self-discipline and self-motivation to keep up with the coursework and complete assignments. For some students, the lack of structure and accountability of traditional classroom settings can make it challenging to stay on track.

Limited hands-on learning: Without access to the same equipment and materials as in-person classes, students may miss out on important learning experiences.

Distractions: Online learning can also be distracting for some students, particularly if they are studying from home or other non-traditional settings. Students may be easily distracted by social media, household chores, or other non-course related activities.

Yes, online learning is cheaper, and can be convenient, but is it worth the human cost if it’s your main source of learning?

I would say, no.

The metaphor we could use is junk food.

In small doses it can be ok, however if it becomes your only source sustenance, then it may not be that healthy for you.

Depending on the purpose and context of the learning, it may be worth prioritising in-person learning to ensure the most productive and meaningful learning experience possible.

Plus, as a positive side effect, your investment is promoting the physical and mental health benefits of your people ‘getting together’.

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Shane Kempton

Shane Kempton is the CEO of Harcourts WA and the network high performance coach.