Face-to-Face vs. Online Learning: Why Is It Either/Or?

[For a period of time there was a debate about online learning. Today there’s a growing acceptance of the value of “blended learning” where students work collaboratively in real time, but also build their knowledge and skills online. In this Edutopia article Matt Levinson, the head of an independent school, explains how Global Online Academy provides his students with an online community of colleagues to work on projects. In Pittsburgh the World Affairs Council has played a similar role connecting schools to counterparts around the globe.]


In the film The Intern, a 70-year-old senior citizen named Ben Whittaker (Robert DeNiro), applies for a “senior” internship with a fashion tech start-up experiencing explosive growth. The interview process requires him to submit a video. Uncertain how to make a video, Ben enlists his nine-year-old grandson and wows the company with his warmth and personality. Ben gets the job.

He brings real-life experience to his new role, and his high EQ brings dividends to the company’s fast-moving, over committed CEO, who learns to appreciate and value Ben for his sincerity and integrity. His “old school” approach finds him in a suit and tie each day, while his younger colleagues wear t-shirts and don’t shave. Ben’s charm is that he is skilled at and values conversation.

In “Reclaiming Conversation,” a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Professor Sherry Turkle writes:

But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

And in The Intern, Ben challenges CEO Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) to learn who she is through conversation, listening, and empathy.

As schools continue the march into online and blended learning, there’s much to take away from the lessons of Ben Whittaker. The approach doesn’t need to be either face-to-face or online. It can be both. With a growth mindset, we can be open to new ways and modes of connecting.

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