Video killed the teaching staff

Where’s the audience gone?

It’s easy to get the idea that the future of education – and indeed the great learning revolution – will come about mainly as the result of students being able to watch a multitude of videos of lectures anytime, anywhere. The argument goes that it’s a pointless waste of money for thousands of professors and lecturers around the world to be delivering the same content when learners could instead watch videos presented by just the very best experts in their field.

I’ve nothing against watching lectures on video, but it concerns me that as a result there’s a good possibility that the number of academic staff retained by learning organisations will come to be drastically cut, at the expense of a quality learning experience for students.

Now why do we go to watch live sports events? Why do we go and see bands and orchestras live? Why do we go to the theatre or the cinema? After all, these are all things that we can easily watch on our TV screens and tablets, anytime, anywhere. But the fact is that the shared, live experience is ultimately far more powerful, enjoyable and memorable.

I recently attended Learning Without Frontiers 12, but was only able to catch a few of the talks, so I’ve been watching the others online. Now the online videos are well worth viewing, but the sessions I really remember – and that had the most impact on me – were the ones I actually saw live. There’s nothing that compares with that personal interaction between the real people who were there – the sense of occasion, the shared consciousness of the audience, and the feeling of direct participation.

It’s the same in the classroom. Good quality teaching and learning involves so much more than the delivery of a series of facts and exercises determined by a stranger standing at the front. It involves a personal interaction – a direct exchange of electro-chemical energy between two or more living beings who have a shared understanding of what makes the others tick.

It may be that as a result of lectures delivered by video, teaching staff are given more contact time with smaller groups of students which extends the quality of that personal interaction, which would of course be great. Or they just might be made redundant as a result of the latest round of public service cost-cutting.

Image credit: BenjaminThompson