Humanizing the Digital Learning Experience: Part 1

December 13, 2016

Without a Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 1.42.43 PM.png, It’s just a Machine *

A few years ago as I happened to be travelling through an airport I saw an advertisement for a particular airline.  You know --- the one with a choose-your-own-seat strategy.  The sign said “Without a Heart, It’s Just a Machine” and below it was a picture of all the support staff of the airline; the point being that airplanes don’t fly themselves and that a flight experience is only as good as the people involved in it.

That message encapsulates the work of the digital educator.  And in today’s world, all of us are heading in that direction whether we are walking, running or being dragged kicking and screaming.  Those who still believe the only way a learning experience can be effective is to be in the same space at the same time with learners are ignoring a growing body of information to the contrary.  A digital learning experience, particularly in the case of blended learning, has been found to be just as effective and in some cases even more effective than a purely classroom-based experience (Means, et. al., 2010). The 2016 Students and Technology Research Study (Dahlstrom et. al., 2016) reported 46% of students were more actively involved in courses that used technology and 78% of students surveyed thought that “the use of technology contributes to the successful completion of a course.”  

Digital learning can no longer be considered a fad as it’s been reported that at least 21% of middle school students, 27% of high school students and 32% of undergraduates have taken at least one fully online course (Nagel, 2010; Allen and Seamen, 2013).  Who knows how many have taken blended or “flipped” classes? Those courses are not tracked as closely and therefore numbers aren’t readily available.

We must overcome the underlying fear that the growth of digital learning will replace us.  Do you really believe a machine can emulate our passion for our field and empathy for our students?  A digital learning experience can’t “fly” itself --- it needs someone who will land it on the Hudson River if something doesn’t quite work as planned.  Your learners need YOU, not just a machine.  Learners can use a digital environment but a digital environment doesn’t teach the students.

The key to an effective digital learning experience is to focus on the human element.  It’s not just Content as King --- it’s Students as Humans.  Humanizing the digital learning experience requires designing your course with the following elements in mind:

1 - Reconsidering your teaching role.

2 - Planning engaging digital activities.

3 - Establishing YOUR digital presence.

4 - Connecting learners digitally.

5 - Soliciting feedback and evolving as digital educator.

Each of these areas will be explored in future blogs.  For now, think about what you’d like to be able to do in your course. What could you do if your class didn’t have walls and clocks?  

If you're moving in this direction now, and either can't wait for the next blog, or wish to discuss the topic in more detail to inform your own teaching, email me at to arrange a consultation

* from Southwest Airlines Rebrand announcement retrieved from:


Allen, I.E., Seaman, J. (2013).  Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States.  Retrieved from:

Dahlstrom, E., Brooks, D.C., Pomerantz, J., & Reeves, J. (2016). 2016 Students and Technology Research Study.  Retrieved from

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning   studies. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development: Washington, D.C.

Nagel, D. (2010). Report: Online Learning Nearly Doubles Among High School Students. T.H.E. Journal.  Retrieved from