One of the hottest topics within higher education these days is virtual learning. Almost every institution is exploring how to integrate electronic learning into their programs. There are many reasons for this not the least of which is financial. However, does physicality matter for the various aspects of education?
For instance, should students be forced to physically move for a number of years to a campus in order to study? Should conferences be held via the web instead of renting out convention centers and vast numbers of hotel rooms?
Personally, I think physicality is vitally important to almost every aspect of education and research. I think there are certain courses that can migrate online but personal, physical interaction is a huge catalyst for creativity. Students having the ability of interacting with professors in person during a class session–but more importantly, chatting over coffee or something outside of class hours–is a tremendously productive thing. Meeting together for the various conferences is incredibly beneficial not necessarily because of the presentations, although there are a handful of presentations that I find valuable every year, but the conferences are the best way to make personal relationships and explore tentative ideas with other experts over lunch or dinner.
As much as telecommunications and IT technology have helped and will help education, the most effective learning environments are physical learning communities.
A blog on The Atlantic has a very fascinating post about creative clusters in the music industry. Even though it would seem that the technology exists to create music from any location with a high-speed connection, LA, NY, and Nashville are still the places to be if you want to be in the music business because they posses the infrastructure and the community that facilitates creative expression. Similarly, this is why physical campus education remains so important.
What do you think?