Monday, July 23, 2012

Online Learning

As promised, or as threatened, today's topic is online learning.  The next topic, if I can tackle it (presumably it'll take more than one entry) is going to be (drum roll) Plato's version of Socrates.

So, first off...  Have you ever taken online courses?  Did you like them?  Did you learn as much as you did in "regular" classes?  Did you learn as much as you wanted or as much as was expected of you?  It's both a little sad and a little scary that so many schools are moving towards this new style of learning.  I've had the (dis)advantage of taking a few online courses since I joined the military.  But, before I get too deep into this topic a disclaimer: this is not a reflection on any particular university, education program, or professor etc.  This is about online learning in general.

The article that really started me thinking about this topic mentioned an interesting notion that I've heard  talked about before, "Ah, you're a [teacher]. You must learn so much from your students."  His reaction was kind of humorous to me... do doctors learn from their patients, or lawyers from their clients?  Obviously that's rhetorical but still a thought provoking idea.  I also really like the author's analogy of teaching and music, specifically jazz.  Interesting enough, I never have been good at improv musically, though I've always enjoyed the idea and attempting it.  Good teachers are like jazz musicians... they are creative and adapt well.  On the language learning podcast I listened to the other day (which often digressed from the topic of language learning to general education issues) they (it was an interview podcast) discussed how it's good for teachers to study acting.  Specifically, they mentioned improv acting.

Think about it, what were your favorite teachers like?  Don't say the lazy teacher that showed videos everyday.  I mean your favorite teacher from whom you actually learned a lot.  He/she was probably a great performer, improvisor, and he/she could feel the educational climate/mood of the room/class.  I want to be that kind of teacher someday!  As I said I've not been all that good at musical improv and I feel like sometimes when I'm teaching I "wax eloquent" (read: BORING) and sound authoritative on whatever I'm teaching.  Don't get me wrong, a teacher needs to be very knowledgeable about whatever topic they're teaching.  But, I think one of my problems is that I've seen education as receptive (on the student's end).  I still feel like that's a good method, though we should be careful to avoid the stereotypically east Asian education mindset that sets the teacher on too high of a pedestal and doesn't allow for free thinking or discourse in the classroom.  Now, we have online learning that doesn't really have either option.

Oddly enough even while reading this article that's critical of online learning, I'm currently working through my individual online learning (philosophy, Korean, Japanese, Bible etc.) also while reading the article I went to the link in the article about Coursera and I signed up for a few of their classes on things that I find interesting.  So, as critical as I am of online learning, I'm constantly participating in it and promoting it.  I think maybe the issue is maturity and interest in the topic.  There is more information out there (we're living in the information age) online than has ever been available before, and anyone can learn anything if they put their mind to it.  However, making high-school or lower online is a bad idea (not including parent-led homeschooling with online assistance), but most people at that age are not mature enough to handle the responsibility of teaching themselves the information.  That's not an indictment of all high-schoolers, but by and large, age = maturity and the ability to handle responsibility.  So get out there and study/learn/teach, preferably face-to-face, but if that's not an option go online.

The new adventure dogs in the Space Needle in Seattle enroute to Japan