Nowadays, much of the communication that takes place involves some sort of equipment, such as faxes, telephone calls, and e-mails. According to an investigation by The Associated Press (2010), communication equipment is becoming indispensable to people. In other words, people rely on it as never before. Is it proof that face-to-face communication is no longer important? Absolutely not! Face-to-face communication lets people directly know the actual personalities of people, and interact with each other without any barriers. Although as advanced technology develops, people have many new ways to keep connect with others, face-to-face communication is still the most important and effective method to communicate with others in education, business, and daily life.
Online education is a teaching method, which uses a network media to allow students and teachers to carry out teaching and learning activities even thousands of miles away. First of all, it really breaks the constraints of time and space, because students and teachers do not have to go to school buildings. They can learn or teach anytime and anywhere. For example, Open University of Britain offers an online and distance education system called ODE, which has a worldwide reputation for education. This program, which has flexible teaching time, exclusively utilizes the online mode of teaching without any face-to-face sessions. In this way, Open University enrolls new students worldwide, and it gives people who do not have much time opportunities to gain professional knowledge. The students do not have to go to Britain, and they do not have to pay the high living expenses of studying in the UK.
What’s more, the ODE, through a network teaching platform called FirstClass, provides online learning guides, software demo sites, articles, reports, books, and information resource links to students, and the students can get those resources at anytime. There are other online courses offered by reputable universities and colleges that allow students from different countries to opt for courses pertaining to their individual fields of education. According to an investigation by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there were over 3,000 open courseware courses available from over 300 universities worldwide in 2006. For example, Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn. In addition, each course includes a full set of class lectures produced in high-quality video accompanied by such other course materials as syllabi, suggested readings, exams, and problem sets.
The lectures are available as downloadable videos, and an audio-only version is also offered. These courses allow people access to information and knowledge in their favorite fields. However, distance education lacks discipline and provides poor opportunities for interaction and social networking. This is because distance education operates through the Internet. This makes it unnecessary for professors and students who are in the same course to synchronize with others in the same time and space. It acts as a driving force for mobility of students, which causes confusion for classes and makes it hard for professors and administrators to supervise students. In addition, the students who attend online courses come from all walks of life, and their social rank, life experiences, attendance goals, learning styles, and cultural and educational backgrounds are all different. These things also increase the difficulty of management in the online education.
On the other hand, in face-to-face education, teachers and administrators can monitor and manage students completely, making it possible to keep matters in good order. Students in online courses can, however, access knowledge and information much more easily. It makes students rely on the Internet, not only for personal uses but for work and study as well. As a result, students will sit in front of computers for hours each day and lack enough emotional communication. Today’s distance education neglects the factor of the emotions of students, and is not concerned with the emotional communication between teachers and students. More importantly, emotional education is a significant part of education, particularly in primary and secondary education. Teenagers form their values and moralities when they communicate with teachers or classmates in classes and schools. This is what distance education cannot achieve. As John Dewey (1944) said, “Science and technology are not personality forces. They only act as intermediaries in education.”
No matter how powerful distance education is, if it ignores the human emotions, it will lose the fundamental purpose of education. Therefore, distance education should never be a substitute for face-to-face education. Last but not least, in distance education, when teachers, students, and educational institutions use copyrighted materials, they cannot get the same treatment as people in physical classrooms. In other words, distance education will suffer many copyright infringement problems. According to the U.S. Copyright Law (1976), Section 110 (2), distance education has three weaknesses. The first is that the law has limited the types of copyrighted materials it recognizes in distance education: only non-dramatic works, articles and music are allowed to be shown in distance classes. Also, in the process of distance education, teachers, students and education institutions easily land in copyright infringement problems.
With the development of technology, communication equipment is constantly emerging, such as email, the cell phone, text messaging, etc. In business communication, email is the most common method all in use over the world. It has three main advantages: it makes business information more accessible; and it provides for swifter communication in business activities; it breaks the constraints of time and space for business people to make contact with business partners. According to an investigation by the Direct Marketing Association in 2009, if an American business person invests $1 in commercial email, he would get $43.61 in return in one year. It seems that sending e-mails is a best way in business communication. However, the prospects for commercial email have not been good recently. When people receive hundreds of junk emails each week, the high rate of investment return will no longer exist. According to an investigation by FOB Business Forum, subscribers’ inboxes are full of needless emails currently, and 60% of subscribers choose to ignore all emails, this dashes to pieces business people’s hope for electronically establishing relationships with clients.
On the contrary, in face-to-face communication, there is not much guesswork involved. Therefore, business people can set the foundation for trust with customers swiftly, and lasting business relationships easily. Video conferencing is also a popular commercial communications media in the 21st century. It is almost like the face-to-face meeting and non-verbal communication is also possible in video conferencing. In fact, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, said that over 90% of human communication is through nonverbal language like postures, gestures, eye contact and facial expressions. Video conferencing allows people to observe others’ appearances, movements and facial expressions in the same conferencing. What is more, people can show any material object, drawing and document they want.
It enables businessmen to maximize the effectiveness of their negotiations. On the other hand, the success of video conferencing proves that face-to-face communication in business is still more effective than other types of communication. However, establishing video a conferencing network requires a great deal of funds, and the cost of maintaining and repairing the video equipment is also very high. It seems that video conferencing is not appropriate for all companies or organizations if face-to-face communication is still feasible. Email and video conferencing are not substitutes for face-to-face contact at all. As the economists Jess Gaspar and Ed Glaeser (2007) have pointed out, they are complements to face-to-face communication.
In today’s world, a variety of communication equipments are packed into our life and electronic communication is better and cheaper than it is ever been. However, abusing communication equipments make people lacks emotional communication and provides poor opportunities for social networking. For example, in workplace, personal face-to-face communications can help people build relationship with their colleagues. The complexities of interpersonal relations cannot be interpreted by an e-mail, and a quick e-mail is absolutely not enough to maintain close association between two people. What is more, face-to-face communication is the key point in teamwork. According to an investigation by Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (2006), people who worked together and communicate with colleagues face-to-face did a better team job than another team who only use intercom to communicate with each colleague.
We live in the 21st century, an era of advanced science and technology, in which we have a great variety of communication equipment, such as cell phones, faxes, Internet, etc. These things bring a lot of benefits for all aspects of people’s lives. However, other types of communication can never be a complete substitute for face-to-face communication. In business, education or daily life, face-to-face communication is the best method to communicate with others.
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