It might seem strange to classify face-to-face communication as a medium, because no technology is required to act as an intermediary between sender and receiver. However we define it, we must not ignore it because for thousands of years it was the default means for delivery of any sort of learning experience. Now, of course, we have many more choices, so is face-to-face learning still important?
First of all, face-to-face communication is synchronous; it takes place in real-time, requiring all participants to be available simultaneously. Synchronous communication has immediacy: it allows the learner to get quick answers to questions and speedy feedback on their performance; it permits teachers and trainers to respond rapidly to emerging situations; it allows for free-flowing discussion. Synchronous communication has an important place in many blended solutions.
Of course some learning activities only really make practical sense face-to-face. Obvious examples are where it is vital that teachers and learners can quickly pick up on the nuances of body language, such as when practising interpersonal skills; or where learners need to interact with the physical world, such as when driving or operating equipment. These circumstances might well mean that a face-to-face element to a solution is essential, whether in a classroom or on-the-job. Which is not to say that other elements of the solution must also be face-to-face.
There is no doubt that a really well-delivered face-to-face event is a memorable experience, even if this is a rare occasion. Think of all the music you listen to: how much of this is in a concert hall or other live venue? What about the drama you watch? How much of this is in a theatre rather than on TV or at the cinema? The same goes for sport: how much of this do you see in a stadium rather than in an armchair? It’s perfectly adequate for many of our everyday learning activities to be online, even if these are not life-changing experiences.
Next up: Why we shouldn’t write-off offline media