Unified Communications: an educating market

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As we discussed in a healthcare article last week, you can do everything except touch someone through a video link, which is why distance learning is morphing – in America at least – into Massive Open Online Courses (moocs – as featured on NewsNight just recently). When I was a linguistics student in the 1980s we studied Chomsky, in Brighton where I was learning. Given today’s technology we could have had lectures straight from him, with complete interactions.

It’s not perfect, though. I’ve never tried a mooc but according to some reports like this one they don’t have the same level of engagement as a face to face meeting with a tutor (actually there’s a lot more to that article but not knowing anything about the parties involved I can’t comment on its credibility).

Different medium

This does give some pause for thought, though. Unified Communication, video links and audio, maybe some sharing of documents, not the same as a face to face?

No kidding, Sherlock?

The thing is, conferencing services are not supposed to be the same as face to face. They may have been marketed in that way before but actually they behave differently and indeed prompt different behaviours. I’ve media trained over Skype before and some of the differences are unexpected. You know and understand you won’t be able to shake hands and won’t recognize the background of the locations in which the other people are speaking, that’s understood. And as I’ve mentioned before in this column, the eye lines are an issue.

An even bigger issue, however, is that the relationship changes. In person I’m a real, living bloke. On screen I’m a little picture that can be shrunk, grown, put on pause (probably) – the body language from the training candidates was different.  People would look away, announce they were going to make coffee, type a little, look at stuff that was happening in other computer windows – all of this seems acceptable when you’re online.

On the other hand you can share a screen in a way that you can’t in a face to face. You can both add things (or more than two of you, of course), edit in real time. You can bring other people in, from different countries, at will.

No, it’s not the same as a face to face. Manners are different and arguably are still evolving. As long as this is understood, people should start to see benefits – some of them quite unexpected.

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