The limits of face-to-face education

21-02-2021 11:30 AM

By Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh

Face-to-face education, which requires the student and the teacher to meet directly in a specific place and time, is one the oldest and best modes of education.

Despite the emergence of all forms of advanced technological developments, which have brought with them several modes of efficient education confined by no time or place limitations, face-to-face education remains indispensable because of the many unique traits which it possesses.

For this reason, it will be with us, though in a more improved and hybridised form, for a long time to come.

Nevertheless, two points are important to highlight here in order to put the matter of face-to-face education in its right perspective.

The first has to do with the limitations of face-to-face education, and the second with the fact that, despite its so many distinct attributes, face-to-face education will be just one form of learning, among others, and not the dominant or primary form.

Regarding its limitations, they are many.

Among them is what we have recently experienced, both deeply and painfully, when face-to-face education at our schools and on our university campuses was totally disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is obvious that we humans have not been able to put viruses and pandemics behind us, and therefore they will continue to surprise us in the future and prevent our learners, for significant periods, from access to face-to-face learning.

Such is a shortcoming of face-to-face education which we have not experienced as profoundly before.

But face-to-face education can be disrupted as well as a result of other severe ecological phenomena, such as snow storms, floods, dust storms, heatwaves, etc.

We, in this part of the world, have experienced many of those, and still do, which cause a total disruption of education, especially in the absence of a viable alternative to face-to-face education.

Learning can also be disrupted as a result of other extraordinary factors: political, security, social, etc.

The limitations of face-to-face education are by no means confined to extraordinary circumstances, such as those cited above.

Rather, they could emanate from the nature, structure and methods of implementation of face-to-face education itself, such as centralising the role of the teacher, privileging rote learning and teaching over the centrality of the learner, self-learning, and skills conducive to the real needs of learners.

Among its other shortcomings are its minimal use of advanced technologies in facilitating learning and making it more efficient, and its exaggerated reliance on conventional, even outdated, modes.

Among the limitations also are the high expenses resulting from students, teachers and employees commuting daily to the physical educational site, and the time and effort spent on such a laborious end.

And there are limitations which compel us not to go beyond face-to-face education, but to limit, economise and blend it within other forms, keeping its positive merits and doing away with its shortcomings and negative features.

Hence is the talk these days about blended learning, which combines the best elements and features of face-to-face education and the best elements and features of online learning.

Blended learning is a better solution and a better fit because it allows direct interaction with teachers, peers and the various elements of the campus which school- and university-age students direly need, and the infinite opportunities that online leaning implemented via technological platforms makes possible.

To this important end, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research did well to adopt, in cooperation and coordination with all concerned institutions of higher education, a national plan for blending online learning with the existing face-to-face programmes for the purpose of development and outcomes relevant to current needs.

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