Live Education Still Matters in an Online World

Marvin H. Berman, DDS


Following my return home recently after presenting an all-day course on child behavior management for an enthusiastic audience of dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, and office managers, I received a personal email from one of the participants.

The message gave a detailed description of an encounter at her office between her and a very reluctant child patient. She proceeded to tell me that she decided to try some of the techniques I recommended. To her delight, the child’s behavior improved dramatically, allowing her to complete the treatment. Moreover, she received a heartfelt thank you from the parent and the child.

“Thank you,” she wrote. “I am so grateful.”

The message was reassuring for me and validated my continuing effort to share my knowledge and experience with others in a very up close and personal way—the live lecture! It has now been more than 50 years that I’ve been travelling and lecturing at meetings around the world because I feel that the communication of principles and ideas is enhanced when a student is watching and hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

Today’s Technology

But with the amazing technology we have today, which is constantly being refined and improved, we have webinars, streaming, Power Point syllabi, online tests, and more. You can even get your master’s degree online without ever speaking to a teacher. I’m reminded of some of my classmates in undergrad and dental school who did not attend the lectures, since attendance was optional, and they chose to just read the textbook and borrow or pay someone to take notes on the lecture for them.

During a recent conversation with some dental students attending one of my courses, they informed me that hardly anyone attended the lectures in their courses because they were boring and because the instructors provided a Power Point outline of their lecture from which the questions on the test were formulated.

In fact, it was a school policy that all questions on the examination had to come from the Power Point presentation. Do you remember the olden days when we would jokingly say that some teachers would introduce whatever they didn’t cover in the book and the lecture on the test?

And who can forget those students who would raise their hand to ask “Is this going to be on the test?” The atmosphere was not geared to the acquisition of knowledge, but rather to the preparation for a test.

So the question, then, is what are the pros and cons of the computer centered, webinar presented, digitally enhanced, and Power Point summarized methodology of teaching and learning as opposed to the more old-fashioned (traditional is a better word) “in your face” method of conveying information?

The organizers of many dental meetings and conferences across the country and abroad are concerned about the undeniable falloff in attendance at meetings, driven by the fact that dentists are availing themselves of more convenient and less costly online digital sources of acquiring continuing education credits. So, are live presentations worth the time and effort and cost? Are they still relevant?

The Advantages of Each

Online education offers the following benefits:

  • Less expensive: Online courses typically have lower costs for tuition. Plus, there are no travel expenses for speakers or students. You can even get a bona fide college degree for $10,000 online as opposed to $50,000 to $80,000 or more to attend college, including room and board and expenses.
  • Convenience: You can listen to or watch presentations at your convenience, in your own home, with no dress code. This is especially advantageous for people with young children and for individuals who cannot afford to miss work to advance their education.
  • Study and take tests at your own pace: You can study and take practice tests to your heart’s content and then take the “final” when you feel ready. No pressure.

On the other hand, education that’s live and in person offers these benefits:

  • Learning in the company of others: You can’t underestimate the value of acquiring knowledge while in the company of your peers. I compare it to streaming a movie or concert on your computer as opposed to being “at” the event, laughing, applauding, or groaning with others as well as benefiting from the opportunity to have informal discussions with fellow attendees, not to mention the possibilities of creating friendships with your colleagues.
  • Live is alive: You can listen to or watch artists like Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Ed Sheeran, Lang Lang, Itzhak Pearlman, Pentatonix, Chicago, the Eagles, Jon Legend, or Lady Gaga on your television set. Or, you can attend a live concert. Assuming the teacher or lecturer is a good communicator, there is no comparison.
  • Pearls of wisdom: When you attend a course presented by a skilled lecturer, there is the likelihood of serendipitously picking up useful tidbits above and beyond the ordinary and expected.
  • Motivation and inspiration: Live lectures offer more opportunities for feedback, not only immediately following the presentation, but also long after. One student once said to me, “I heard you speak 15 years ago and I now give my shots with that wiggling thing you showed us.” Another once said, “Since I heard you speak in Toronto, I’m working with the child more upright in the chair. It’s so much easier.” A third told me, “You probably don’t remember me, but after hearing you speak 5 years ago, I applied to pediatric dental residency programs, and I now have my own pediatric practice.”

A career highlight for me personally has been the opportunity and the honor to present several “live” television courses, working with child patients in front of live audiences on closed circuit television at several Chicago Midwinter Meetings. They were exciting and unforgettable educational experiences for everyone.

In my opinion, live presentations and lecturing should always be an integral part of education, whether it be first grade in grammar school or postgraduate continuing education for our dental profession. Will there continue to be a demand for that kind of education? Yes, if there are teachers, lecturers, and instructors who are capable of communicating, inspiring, and motivating.

That brings me to the subject of my next blog—what makes a great lecture? What are the characteristics of a great teacher? Until next time.

Dr. Berman is an internationally recognized pediatric dentist with a career as a successful practitioner and as a popular world-class lecturer spanning more than 5 decades. He’s still one of the principal dentists in a thriving practice in Chicago, Ill. He has been an ambassador for dentistry as a health reporter on CBS (News Radio 78) and via media appearances as a consumer advisor for the ADA, the Chicago Dental Society, and the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and as coauthor of Essentials of Modern Dental Practice. He has published numerous articles and is a member of many professional and service organizations including Honorary Membership in the Hinman Dental Society. He can be reached at

Related Articles

Try Communication, Not Sedation, in Pediatric Dentistry

Has Technology Destroyed the Healing Touch?

Dentists Should Recognize Autism Awareness Month