During this pandemic year, I’ve taken a lot of e-courses. They were already a part of my life, but during lockdown my usage expanded enormously! It was a way to keep learning and interacting with people in some way, even when in-person instruction was not possible. And as I’m sure you’ve all experienced yourself as well, online education has much to offer — but some disadvantages too.
I’ve enjoyed learning about all kinds of things, from English language teaching to contemplative spiritual practice to German grammar to memoir writing. I appreciate the ease and convenience of using my personal computer at home (when not interrupted by technical glitches, anyway). It’s amazing to be able to connect with people all over the world, unlimited by barriers of time and space.
But like many others, I’m getting tired of Zooming, of cameras and screens and electronic voices. And I’ve started to wonder: why am I attracted to online courses when there is a book available on the same topic? Why are these courses often more expensive than the book, and are they really worth it? Or even if they are low-cost or free, what makes them better than reading?
We live in an age when video is the preferred method of conveying information; most people don’t even read books any more. But when you do have the reading habit, videos can be frustrating. If the visual element is not really important, or the presenter’s manner is not very engaging, I tend to find them slow and tedious. I start wishing I could simply read a text version. I also like having information down on paper so that I can go back to previous passages, mark up and annotate, cross-reference, and just have a spatial experience of the information set out.
I have really benefited from videos for learning languages, where they are invaluable for connecting visual with auditory input. And even in English, I do like getting more of a sense of the presenter as a person through the video format. But with a well-written text, which is usually longer and more comprehensive than an online course, I still get a sense of the author’s voice.
The one thing that is possible with online courses but not with books is real-time interaction with the presenter or other participants. This can be a great opportunity to connect with other learners, and I value the connections I’ve made this way. But I’m not sure how much more I’m up for. In the future, when books and e-courses are both available on the same topic, I’m going to think harder before making a decision between the two. The book may be less flashy and exciting on the surface, but I might find the benefits more lasting.
What do you think about books vs. e-courses? How has your learning experience been?