What Makes Classroom Learning a Worthwhile Experience?

I had a moment of fear and dread this week during a faculty meeting about technology in the classroom. How we learn today seems vastly different that how I learned 10 years ago. It’s so easy to find knowledge at the tips of our fingers. Then what’s the value of the classroom experience?

Noam Shpancer (2004, .pdf) wrote a beautiful essay for Thought and Action, the NEA higher education journal, answering the exact question above. He said that despite all the advances in how we access knowledge, we still yearn for reciprocal interactions with one another and authentic dialogue. He argues that the days of “one-way knowledge transfer” in the classroom is gone. It’s been replaced by the  internet, TV, and textbooks. So what can teachers provide that is not already provided by these devices? Instead of thinking about what content teachers can provide, let us think about the experience. Shpancer challenges us to make the classroom creative, flexible, and unpredictable. “The classroom, in this context, is to the textbook what the live show is to the studio recording.” As much as we think the internet is “interactive,” nothing is more interactive than face-to-face interaction.

I have proposed that the classroom experience uniquely affords students direct, live access to trained minds as well as safe, face-to-face, and academically productive group interaction. In other words, the classroom is a great place to learn how to deal with knowledge and how to deal with people—both of which are essential for success in the world, and neither of which can be downloaded from Yahoo.

While nothing Shpancer wrote is revolutionary novel to the world of education, it does reaffirm my own faith in the classroom experience. Despite the marvels of the technology, social media, and Google, we can still make classroom learning worthwhile.


Shpancer, N. (2004). What makes classroom learning a worthwhile experience? Thought and Action, Winter, 23-35.