Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Entry 29 IDT1415 Dreyfus 2001 - How far is distance learning from education?

Having read the Dreyfus' debate and drawing from your experience as distance learner, how important is for you the physical presence of the teacher for the learning process? Does it have an impact on achievement?

Think about language teaching in particular, taking into consideration that in the language classroom the teacher is the only (near)-native speaker of the target language and the embodiment of the target culture.

I enjoyed reading Dreyfus because it caused strong reactions which even with all the theory behind it my own experience as a distant learner tells me differently. I agree with his concept of 'hyperlearning' and how permanent connectivity has opened doors to knowledge realms we could only dream of not long ago. It has been almost 15 years since he wrote this chapter and I believe we now have the insight of positioning ourselves in his future to be able to offer a more realistic perspective. I would like to start with his last question on p49: 'Can bodily presence required for acquiring skills in various domains and for acquiring mastery of one's culture be delivered by means of the internet?' I would say that my personal answer would be a loud and clear yes for several reasons. First of all, because as he says 'students tend to imitate the teacher as a model' p38 and I have been able to do this or be able to identify what not to imitate from my distant learning teachers by observing their positive or negative online behaviour. I can identify myself with Dreyfus' different stages of learning and found them very informative so as to be able to see where I stand now after 8 years of online learning and teaching experience. However, I would disagree with his idea under Stage 3 Competence that in distance learning there is no risky involvement (p39) and would argue that lack thereof would be a consequence of a wanting master. I can think of examples of risky involvement in at least 2 of the several online courses I have taken where there were opportunities for this risky involvement on the part of the student (me) was wisely encouraged by the tutor when moderating tasks which succeeded in bringing forth opposing views regarding the use of IWBs in the classroom. As such, I do not believe the physical presence of the teacher would be any different from their virtual one. However, I believe that the lack for a 'physical body' in an online environment where often learning is also asynchronous, calls for the need of 'online presence' and 'timely availability and response'. These features I think mirror that physical aspect which is 'partially' missing in online learning and which can add or detract value form a learning experience.  Now, I say 'partially' because nowadays video conferencing is as natural as making a phone call from your mobile phone 10 years ago so again we need to acknowledge Dreyfus' technology at the time. I believe with the advancement in technology in the last 15 years and the possibility for learners and tutors to shorten the distance via video conferencing and VoIP, the degree of opposition would have been tempered by the acknowledgement and availability of these resources.

Now, from the point of view of language teaching and the teacher being the only (near) native speaker of the target language and embodiment of the target culture, distance learning offers the possibility to actually have access to the target language culture via not only a native teacher but also all the information available on the internet as discussed in week 3 when we looked at the different technologies available for second language learning and what these had on offer. Online learning via LiveMocha, Myngle and Immerse Learning (prior LanguageLab) or sites like those where native speaking teachers who would clearly embody the target language are available are clear examples. Again, I would say that thanks to technological advancement the issue as presented by Dreyfus is no longer as relevant as it was in 2001.


Dreyfus, H.L. 2001. How far is distance learning from education? In: On the Internet. First Ed. Oxon, Routledge, 27-49 Online at http://moodle.nottingham.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=24802. [accessed: 10 November 2014].

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