Is paper a more effective teaching medium than speech? Stupid question isn't it? It depends what you write, what you say, how you express yourself and above all what do actually do with these media. That's why I get rather tired of the endless discussions about so-called e-learning. Is it more effective than chalk and talk? Does it lead to better student grades? Again rather irrelevant questions.
Computers enable us to communicate in ways that were impossible a few years ago. The internet is where most information in the world is now stored. Any education that does not make use of these should have a very good reason why not. Computers and the net are the default settings of today's education system just as a chalkboard and textbooks were the default settings of the past. It's not a question of which is better, it's essential that we use the knowledge base and communicative channels that are relevant in today's society.
Clive Shepherd has just written an excellent post on this theme (Is e-learning effective?) and answers the question by showing that there is no single definition of e-learning; you can provide a wide variety of course designs on the net. There is in fact an equally wide range in e-learning as there is in face-to-face teaching.
"To answer the question, we also have to qualify the type of e-learning that we are talking about. Do we mean instructional tutorials delivered for the individual learner? Live group sessions in a virtual classroom? The delivery of online content using web sites, video, podcasts, etc? Collaborative, distance learning like the MOOC described above? The only characteristic these approaches have in common is that they use the same delivery channel - a computer network. In all other respects they are radically different."
The net offers new media and new opportunities for all educators. It's not a matter of which medium is best, it's about using the full pallette of educational media to promote cooperation, communication, reflection and learning. It's not a case of "either ... or ..." it's about learning using the media that are most appropriate for the situation. It could be that the chalkboard is still king for certain processes whereas a virtual world could be the best setting for other processes. We've never had so many wonderful tools to make education more accessible and meaningful to all - let's make the most of this rather than bickering over details.