In person education provides a number of social benefits. We are at a turning point where we are beginning to see a transition from the traditional face-to-face learning experience to a new online framework. In The Perfect Online Course, author Michael Simonson notes the social benefits of face-to-face learning:

“In traditional face-to-face classrooms, key interactions that affect learners’ attitudes and performance often occur spontaneously in real-time. Good instructors interpret students’ body language, answer questions clarify expectations, facilitate activities, promote discussions, alborate concepts, render guidance and provide timely feedback as they present content in a clear and engaging manner”

A successful ecosystem for online education will have to replicate these social benefits. There are three primary types of interpersonal interactions: student-student interaction, teacher-teacher, and student-teacher.

Student-Student Interactions

Student-student interactions occur between learners either alone or in a group. The primary purpose of these interactions is to challenge the learners to apply their own knowledge and techniques within a group setting. The following types of student to student interactions are important to maintain in a distance learning platform:

  • Group projects
  • Explaining concepts to each other
  • Peer pressure to do homework
  • Friendships: if your classmates live in other cities, how do hang out?
  • Dating
  • People your age to live with

 Teacher-Teacher Interactions

Sometimes overlooked, the teacher-teacher interaction is crucial in establishing a positive learning environment. It is critical that course content and teaching styles are not forgotten amidst the transition to online content.

  • Will online fora replace teacher conferences as the means that teachers stay in touch with the state of the art in each of their subjects?

 Student-Teacher Interactions

  • What will replace the casual student-professor interactions that happen before and after class?
  • In-person office hours enable mentoring
  • Many undergrads work in professor’s labs, an opportunity enabled by being on the same campus. What will be the future of research given the impersonality of distance learning?