Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are one of those “pedagogical practices that are current and relevant to the new generation of learners,” to use a description featured prominently in promotional literature, The Huffington Post reports. Sure sounds trendy, doesn’t it? But education is not simply about content delivery.
Education is about inspiration. It’s about lighting a fire in the mind (and maybe the belly too). Call me skeptical, but I don’t think a MOOC can do that.
OK, I haven’t tried a MOOC, but I have experienced distance learning. As a military officer, I took ACSC (Air Command and Staff College) by “correspondence.”
The Air Force sent me the books and study materials, I did the reading and studying — and learned absolutely nothing. Why? First you memorized content, then you took multiple-choice tests to measure your “mastery” of that content. I passed with flying colors — and retained nothing.
As a professor I’ve also advised a graduate student via distance learning. It was an adequate experience for the both of us, but we never met. The mentoring experience was impoverished. I felt little connection to the student, and I’d wager he felt little connection to me.
Distance learning and MOOCs reduce education to content delivery. And it requires an exceptional student to get the most out of them. When I query my students in class about on-line courses, most of them are ambivalent or opposed to them. When they favor them, they say things like: “It was easy to skate by” or “I took it only because it fit my work schedule.”
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