Why Can Online Learning Be Hurtful

We can disagree, we can feel frustrated, we can even feel that we have to start new ventures in the classroom because of the online instructor. But, how can we feel good about learning, if we’re not the instructor ourselves?

Have you ever considered the unintended consequences of something you’ve decided to take part in online? If you’re like most people, most of the time you are not concerned about how something you are learning might affect your social standing. The person you date, the jobs you apply for, the toys your kids play with, the restaurants you eat at, or the friends you have will be the sum total of your life.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the implications of my continuing education, particularly my decision to continue with my online degree. I think about the kinds of problems you think about a lot when you’re a struggling, starving artist. Things like body image, the status of your place in the art world, the pressures that set in once you are well established in your field, the fears of failing artists, the worry that your art is of no interest to others.

Whether you realize it or not, your online education will likely add to or detract from some of these worries.

When I was first graduating high school, I played on the junior varsity tennis team. There were regular practice and matches, games won and lost, school dances, and student government activities. There was no social stigma involved. After all, everyone was in it together.

This is much different in adult life. The world of photography is a very competitive one, and it is downright embarrassing to acknowledge that you or your partner is not skilled enough or unwilling enough to perform under extreme pressure. Even someone who is competent, confident and skilled can get embarrassed, and so that humiliation can be embedded in their image of themselves and lead to lasting effects on their quality of life.

Getting an online degree means I’ll have the upper hand for at least a while. However, the longer my picture is posted in online forums that are exclusive, the more judged I will feel. Depending on how specific they get, in some cases people will even organize events based on what I have “earned” in regards to my work.

“How many times a week is this photo sent around the Internet by galleries and appraisers? I hope you send it around with at least a 1/2 mark ‘reduction’ for a price reduction.”

When I consider how much money I am putting into this degree, it is almost impossible to feel embarrassed about it, and that excites me. Maybe instead of being eerily satisfied with my inclusiveness, I will be proud and excited to be included in online conversations that honor me for my unique worth.

With some online classes, however, this kind of encouragement might feel hollow.

Do the courses that I end up taking really need me to log on for the sake of understanding them and pursuing them? Would they get much better with me reading book reviews from my friend or classmates, or watching TED Talks, or checking out a few videos on Youtube? When I think about these classes, online or face-to-face, I begin to recognize the ethical dilemmas that keep me from ever going into them.

Many of the skills and knowledge I’m gaining in online classes I already have. During my college years, I was often called to intern at a photography gallery in order to secure a photo scholarship to get me started with my studies. I did that just so I could have the opportunity to see how it all worked and get better.

I think it is a little bit unrealistic to consider ever going back to campus to use all of the pieces of my learning. If you’re still not feeling confident about this, you may want to ask for help in finding a more appropriate classroom setting.

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