The best part of the rise of online education is that it forces us to ask: What is a university for, the Houston Chronicle reports? Are universities mostly sorting devices to separate smart and hard-working high school students from their less-able fellows so that employers can more easily identify them? Are universities factories for the dissemination of job skills? Are universities mostly boot camps for adulthood, where young people learn how to drink moderately, fornicate meaningfully and hand things in on time? My own stab at an answer would be that universities are places where young people acquire two sorts of knowledge, what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge and practical knowledge. Technical knowledge is the sort of knowledge you need to understand a task – the statistical knowledge you need to understand what market researchers do, the biological knowledge you need to grasp the basics of what nurses do.

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