Monday, August 13, 2012

On-line Classes, Coursera, and "Real Learning"

The news about online learning continues to grow, as do the opportunities and the criticism.  With information spreading about the opportunity to "take classes" online at elite universities such as MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, people are beginning to wonder what the actual value of attending these schools really is.  In essence, if a student freely can access - and satisfactorily complete - all the coursework in engineering at MIT, then is he as qualified for work as a student who attended the university full time ... and potentially paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition?

The rise of of "Massive Open Online Courses," also known as MOOCs is changing the way we think about accessing education - or at least about accessing information.  It began certainly with colleges like Westwood and Phoenix, but gained a serious bump and considerable credibility a couple years ago when professors at Stanford began offering open access to their course through portals such as Coursera - an online learning platform which coordinates access and materials.  Coursera quickly became a game changer - and others moved to replicate the model.  Other options include platforms such as EdX, which calls itself "the future of online learning, and Education Portal about which I've posted before.  And, these are just the college classes - for the Khan Academy is opening up new opportunities in K-12 learning.

Is this the future of education?

Not so fast, says UCLA philosophy professor Pamela Hieronymi  in a commentary for the Chronicle.  Professor Hieronymi is worried about our fascination with the internet and the danger of "confusing technology with college teaching."  Anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in the classroom at the higher level - or anywhere really - understands that much of education comes from the conversations and the human interactions.  It's not just about looking up and reading information on the computer.  That "Google" approach to learning might help us find information.  But sifting through and synthesizing that information and moving to knowledge and wisdom is what education is really about.  And that takes feedback and questioning, most efficiently coming from human interaction.  The learning process unfolds in a much more fluid form, and class discussion simply cannot completely be replaced by "discussion boards."

Certainly, the efficiency factor is important.  And I love the access to information that MOOCs provided.  But Professor Hieronymi has reasons for us to pause before declaring a "new model" for education.

No comments: