I am a social animal.
And I grew up personally interacting with mentors and classmates who added to, or took away, from my learning experiences inside the classroom (depending on the teacher and how responsive/attentive my classmates were).
So, as convenient virtual interaction is, personal interaction would always be the icing on the cake. It would always spell some sort of difference. But yes, I can do without it and still be okay. I would still always crave for it though, and look for it, and would appreciate being rewarded with some after a while.
Interacting with mentors and peers is very important for me. Had I lived during the correspondence era, I might not have considered distance education because feedback is very important for me. I like knowing where I stand where discussions and requirements are concerned. I like being graded even though I’m not really that grade-conscious. I like being challenged by other's questions, concerns and differing point-of-views. And I prefer these things to be readily given. Interaction keeps me interested, stimulated and on my toes.
However, with DE being the way it is, real-time interaction may not always happen. Though that is not necessarily bad, it does limit learners as well. For example, in our UPOU Moodle Board, I can read other people's comments/postings but some of them may not have expressed themselves well, and I will get confused as to what they meant. Other classmates also might not be posting as much because, just like in classrooms, they feel intimidated by the others (their backgrounds, their lengthy discussions, etc). And then, there is the fact that not everyone enjoys the same ITC equipment, so some who may have contributed much couldn’t go online for days.
Of course, being allowed asynchronous discussions, we are all also given the liberty to dwell on the questions first, really reflect on our answers and review them before posting them. And some who are shy IRL feel freer to speak up in discussion boards. And feedback, guidance and counselling, when sought, are attended to readily when DE works with technology in providing the interaction that is essential to the learning experience.
I said personal interaction is the icing on the cake, but the cake is still INTERACTION. If it's really good, even if it's only virtual, then the learning experience would still be very fulfilling.