The impersonal technology assumption

Given that so much of the college experience involves building relationships with professors and collaborating with other students, how a more technology-centered higher education system will still accomplish that remains to be seen.

Liz Dyer, How Much Will Technology Really Change Higher Education, GOOD

Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue. The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can, with his sensitivity to unspoken moods and enthusiasms.

Mark Edmundson, The Trouble with Online Education, NY Times

Why is there this continuing belief that technology cannot improve relationships? And why is this issue always presented as such a false dichotomy? More technology = less personal relationships?

It is simply not true (and thank you Nathan for pushing back against Mr. Edmundson with far greater clarity and eloquence than I can muster).

The real argument that Edmundson is making, and it is actually a good one, is that there are pedagocial benefits to interactive and responsive learning environments. Where he fails is wrongly assuming that human interactivity is solely the business of the offline and impossible online. This is plainly false.

Ask any person who has even remotely experienced the social media revolution of the past 5-7 years (and going much farther back if you include the world of forums and other types of online communities) the question, “has online technology brought you closer to people, or has it made you feel more isolated from people?” and I think the answer from most people would be quite clear.

Personally (and despite the protestations from those who argue otherwise), the dichotomy that online is less fulfilling or somehow lacking vs face to face just doesn’t ring true with my own experience, and with the experience of many of the people I know.

Online has not replaced face to face for me – I still go for beers with my buddies with the same regularity that I did before I lived online. But it has augmented it to such an extent that I can hardly keep a straight face when presented with arguments otherwise.

Can’t build relationships? No collaborating with others? No dialogue? Lack of immediacy? Bah. All views of people who still have their feet firmly planted in a world I left behind long ago.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


7 thoughts on “The impersonal technology assumption

  1. Your argument touches on one of my main rants against those who say that "online students will never learn how to interact socially with the rest of the world!" What an incredible crock. Most of the online students I know (having worked in the field for about 15 years) are taking online courses in order to fit education into their already full lives. They have 2 jobs, 3 kids, well developed communities of friends and relatives and other organizations they belong to (church, athletics, games, happy hours, etc.) – they are often up to their eyeballs in the F2F "real world" and don't really need a whole lot more face time. "They'll never learn how to communicate with real human beings!" Pretty sure that their spouse, their neighbors, their employers, fellow employees, and everyone else in their lives – would disagree.

    1. Exactly. And I'll bet the boundaries for those people between their virtual lives and their online lives are blurry to gone.

      The really good educators who are using social media well know how to do all those things that Edmundson bemoans as being gone. And if he would move beyond email and into other spaces, he would realize that establishing a teaching presence and providing spaces for social interactions between educator and student s can happen anywhere on the web – and on our learners terms. They want to connect with us on Facebook? Then we make ourselves available on FB. Twitter? YouTube? Wherever our learners are, we can be.

  2. Too right, brother. Pretty soon we won't even bother to note opinions from the dark ages…..

    1. I'm kinda flabbergasted as to why this warranted an op-ed in the NY Times, actually. I mean, is there not a single editor at the NY Times with a Facebook account?

Comments are closed.