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My 74-year-old father got his first cell phone about a month ago. He’s been holding out, but when the landline in his house was out for a few weeks, and the phone company wasn’t sure when they’d be able to get around to fixing it, he knew it was time to get a mobile phone.

I don’t expect to receive a text from him. Chances are he will still refuse to join Facebook. And I doubt he’ll use the phone to call me unless it’s an emergency. But I’m still glad he has one. Don’t get me wrong; he’s not a complete Luddite. He has a laptop. He uses email and Google. He streams the New York Opera over the web. But you won’t see him completing an eLearning course delivered via his mobile device anytime soon.

In contrast, both of my sons have tablets; the older one regularly pleads with my husband and me to buy him a cell phone, and at 8 and 12 years old, both the boys use the Internet to research at least some of their school projects. They can make their way around an online course faster than you can say, “Papa has a mobile phone.”

In my father’s case, the Internet and eLearning came about long after he had graduated and was entrenched in the working world. Truth is, the learning world has experienced a massive shift since my father was a student in the 1950s, sitting in a row of desks, staring at a chalkboard as his teachers made him recite lessons from his primers and walloped him on his knuckles with a ruler if he made a mistake.

Like today’s eLearning modules, America’s open classrooms in the 1960s were focused on providing students and opportunity to “learn by doing.” The approach resonated with educators and parents who felt that America’s formal, teacher-led classrooms were squelching student creativity. Although the open classroom lost momentum in the 1970s, the idea that teacher always knows best is long gone (as are the walloping rulers). What remains is an appreciation for informal learning in which students are empowered to bring their knowledge and skills to the process—often using technology to do so.

For me, the common theme between then and now is the importance of providing an opportunity for human connection. I believe at the end of the day, that’s how knowledge is transferred. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting in a classroom with a teacher standing in front of a chalkboard, or sharing information via an eLearning module, or collaborating during an online conference; as learners, we need to connect somehow if we are to have educational experiences that make a difference.

Regardless of how the learning is delivered, the human connection is how we will make an impact—that was true for my father as a learner, and it’s still true for my sons today.

LizSheffieldBioLiz Sheffield is a freelance writer with a background in training and development. She specializes in writing about everything related to the human side of business. You can contact her via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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