After a recent forum discussion got side-tracked by an online vs face-to-face teaching argument I thought I'd present some actual evidence. Some may not be interested, if that's you then I'd suggest you move on, it may get a little dry. If not however, or if you think I've just got a barrow to push.......

I've studied this for a number of years now, it was a major focus of my undergrad music ed degree and since then I've learned a whole lot more, through studying the research and then actually making it work.

The assumption is that you need a teacher in the room to show you the right thing and tell you when you get it right or wrong. The journal of the Royal Northern College of Music:

"Even music educators have shunned a systematic approach to teaching methods, preferring to rely on habit, instinct and the master-student model that has been perpetuated for centuries (Richter 2001)"

Sound familiar?

An important aspect of learning is knowing when you're on the right track and is what most people believe they need the "master" for. This extrinsic feedback is not the only way that you can guage your progress. Intrinisic feedback is the feedback you get when your own senses tell you that you're doing something either right or wrong. This  paper describes a number of studies that showed intrinsic feedback more beneficial for college music students in both performance and in how they rated their teachers. Interestingly choral students were the only ones to report better results from direct feedback from their teacher. Anyone who's ever learned to sing will know that what you hear is different to what everyone else does. It's like your senses are lying to you and so the intrinsic feedback is less reliable.

No one suggests that having a teacher in the room is a bad thing of itself, as long as the teacher understands the importance of different types of feedback and when and how they are given. Wollf and Marnell (2008) discuss different ways that feedback can be managed to produce optimum results and along the way point to one of the problems with extrinsic feedback in a traditional setting.

"However, [extrinsic] feedback also has negative effects such as the student becoming overly dependent on it, and subsequently by-passing their own intrinsic feedback. In this scenario, learners fail to develop their own error detection and correction techniques."

Online educators design learning tasks that deliver and hence develop the capacity for intrinsic feedback. The student learns to assess his or her own progress and respond accordingly, an inherently valuable skill that extends far beyond any one particular course of study.

The thing with playing guitar is that there is no one correct position, or style, or technique. You don't need, or indeed want, anyone else telling you that you're doing it 'right'. If you can deliver a specific outcome for a specific task, and if that task is correctly designed and placed within the context of other relevant tasks, then you're away. When instructional design is coherent and learning tasks are relevant you will get results. That's long been established and these things are entirely possible online, in fact it's often easier online than in a traditional setting because the student has so much control over the process.

This compilation on research around online study is unequivocal. It's been proven time and time again that it works. A few highlights:

  • "Students who took part or all of their course online performed better than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction"
  • "Effect sizes were larger for studies in which the online instruction was collaborative or instructor-directed than in those studies where online learners worked independantly."
  • "The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types"
  • "Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes"
  • "Online learning can be enhanced by giving students control of their interactions and prompting learner reflection."
  • "This analysis demonstrates that students engaged in DE academically outperform their F2F counterparts."

and it goes on and on and on.

All of these studies point to the effectiveness of evidence based, intelligently designed online learning programs. Some of that evidence shows that online learning can bridge the gap between face-to-face teaching and more traditional distance education with access to an experienced teacher through email, video links, chat, social media, online seminars etc.

Common sense might tell you that you need a 'master' at hand to guide you, it might also tell you that man can't fly, AG Bell never thought the telephone would take off, they probably thought the wheel was a passing fad. People often assume that their own experience is universal, the fact is that it isn't. For everyone who's had a positive experience someone else has had a negative one. That's why you research these things, to find out.

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Comment by Ron "Oily" Sprague on December 12, 2014 at 10:49pm

Thanks for the free short course on this fascinating topic. I have frequently been asked to teach guitar, to both kids and adults. I tell them I lack the patience, time and effort involved to develop sensible curricula, etc., but the most honest answer I give them is that after 38 years of mostly-self taught guitar, I am still a student. Every single time I play, whether working out a chord sequence, writing a song, trying to master a riff, playing at a jam, or playing solo or in a band setting, I learn something new. I also tell people that, after having learned basic CAGED theory and practice, I have personally found my game steps up considerably by playing face to face with other people. But that, in my opinion, is for intermediate and advanced students. I find it interesting the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic feedback. I see this coaching baseball all the time, and have experienced it myself with my infrequent golf lessons. Knowing and feeling when you've done it "right," I.e., achieved your objective, comes from a combination of both types of feedback: that instant joy you feel inside when you see the ball go where you want it, whang that note just so, and the additional temporary boost from someone nodding approvingly, or screaming their head off in praise.

I believe distributed education works when Internet speeds are high, dropouts are infrequent, Skype or video software is working properly, and both student and teacher are motivated, and in the same time zone. If any one of those fails, then the whole enterprise fails, or at best grinds slowly.

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