“Peopleware”: High Touch & High Tech

This article by Dean Spitzer (2001) argued that online learning needs to have a “high touch” or human interaction component, especially if the learning is more advanced cognitively.  Here are some quotations that caught my eye and fit with some of my thinking about blended learning:

Is the purpose of DL [distance learning] just to cover material? Of course, it depends on what kind of learning we are referring to. Knowledge can be acquired through access to information. However, as we progress up the cognitive domain and deal with affective learning, interaction becomes increasingly important. “If all we had to do was read information about a particular skill, then just send the students to a book” (Miller, 2000, p. 2). (p. 51)

“Lacking a dynamic instructor, powerful incentives, links to the job and fixed schedules, Web learning is at a dramatic disadvantage in capturing and holding attention…. Yes, everyone can learn from the Web. But my experience makes me wonder how many will.” (Rossett, 2000, p. 99). (p. 55)

a human mediator who could provide the things that technology could not: relevance, personalization, responsiveness, and flexibility. (p. 52)

[commenting on an online course which the author designed, which had only 5% dropout:] It certainly wasn’t the technology…. It wasn’t glitzy courseware…. The factor that made the difference was the amount of personal attention and online interaction…. I have found that good human facilitation can compensate for most other deficiencies, while state-of-the-art technology and fancy graphics along cannot sustain student interest and motivation for long. (p. 52)

The constraint has always been with software and “peopleware.” (p. 52)

So according to Spitzer, relevance, personalization, responsiveness, and flexibility are critical “human” components.  Graham and I talked about “reciprocity,” which fits with “responsiveness,” I believe.  We wavered on the term “reciprocity” because computers can be reciprocal, to an extent.  I’m not sure “responsive” overcomes anything, since a computer can be “responsive,” too.  Does one term sound more human than the other?

In any case, now I have more articles to look up (Miller, 2000; Rossett, 2000; etc.) to try to gain my specific support for the arguments he makes here.


Spitzer, D. R. (2001). Donʼt forget the high-touch with the high-tech in distance learning. Educational Technology, 41(2): 51-55. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=uXA-xCItrc4C&oi=fnd&pg=PA165&dq=Don%27t+Forget+the+High-Touch+with+the+High-Tech+in+Distance+Learning&ots=1etqeMaEgU&sig=0Np_lBknaJ-kixUQmjp7BS0MWAQ.


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