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Online learning: where's the puppy?

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

Want to get a college degree but you don't want to leave home? Based on what I'm hearing and reading, that's possible. But I'm going to take the old-fashioned view and suggest that if you do it all from home you're going to miss out on some of the fun and the practical aspects of learning and training.

Let me give you three examples of programs that cause me to wonder. There are online degree programs in veterinary technician, holistic medicine and dental hygiene.

As I understand online studies, sometimes called distance education (obviously I've never been enrolled in a class), I'm at home on my computer with my textbook, workbooks, and written materials and some instructor or professor is at the other end of the line at a computer instructing me and grading my efforts.

Let's assume I want to become a veterinary technician, assisting in the treatment of dogs and cats. I chose this field because I love dogs and cats. In a classroom, I would also have classmates who love dogs and cats. And some of them (gasp) would actually know more about dogs and cats than I do. A good veterinary tech will naturally pet, scratch, stroke and talk to the dogs and cats while treating them. How do you pet a dog online? Where's the puppy on a computer? Excuse me, doesn't it sound like something's missing? Can it be possible to study to be a veterinary technician without actual dogs and cats?

Let me tell you that students learn not only from teachers, instructors and professors, but from one another. We all remember classmates with their sharp questions, dumb questions, wrong answers, clever answers and different experiences and points of view. Classmates make learning fun. How much classmate contract can you have on-line?

Let's say you want an online degree in holistic medicine. I understand holistic medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit and emotions. If one part of the whole person is not working properly, all the other parts will be affected. If a patient, for example, is having migraine headaches, that condition could be caused by a variety of problems like diet, exercise routines, sleep habits, stress, personal problems, blood pressure, spiritual practices, family life and personal relationships. All people have innate healing powers. How do you learn the holistic healing skills without real live patients? There are some problems that can't be fixed through books, charts and instruction manuals. And, again, what would my classmate see that I've missed?

Finally, an online degree in dental hygiene? You know where I'm going with this, don't you? Where are the teeth?

To sum up, a lawyer with an online law degree has never been tested by cross examination from a tough, ruthless law professor and won't know how to defend himself or you. A pastor with an online divinity degree who hasn't counseled a genuine sinner will have a devil of a time leading his flock. And any online professional of any other discipline who has never had a classmate has missed the fun, the joy and the companionship of learning. No person is an island − or a robot.