Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few years, you know that there has been a massive change in education recently. Sure, some of the hyperbole has abated, but there are a lot of people who are still thinking about how a single person might teach more than a classroom. In some cases, they have extended their voice to such a degree that it reaches out to thousands or tens of thousands of people.
Of course, there are issues here. For one thing, this kind of education is mostly one-way. Yes, there are ways of feeding back. A lucky student might be able to grab a sliver of the teacher’s attention, but generally, it’s about the passing of knowledge from one-to-many. Also, students in many cases get together in groups and discuss the work–building on one another’s knowledge. But this isn’t the same as the circle around the sage, the guided conversation that has gone on as long as we have had schools.
Transforming teaching from the kind of conversational learning community that is–at least ideally–found in the university classroom to this sort of massive version is more than just switching media. It means that the teacher has to shift the structure and format of her work. In many cases, this means moving to text, but it also means framing the work more didactically, shaping ideas into units and subunits that can be consumed in little bites.
And this can be amazingly advantageous to many students; students who can’t necessarily get into a classroom each week because of the expense of tuition, because they have full-time jobs and maybe families. Yes, this could potentially be a less rich form of learning than a classroom, but it can reach people who might otherwise never get at that education. It can be provided relatively cheaply, and often for free.
Now some of these are absolute crap. No, check that, I would argue that most are absolute crap. And some have called for their elimination because of that–and a return to more traditional forms of face-to-face learning. The response is natural, and especially when presented with some of these weak examples, it’s clear why they might want to do away with them altogether.
But here’s the key. Many of those who engage in this massified version of learning find their way into the more traditional classroom, or maybe even new forms of learning communities we haven’t even thought of. In other words, although this new form may replace some of the traditional classroom learning, every indication is that there are opportunities for synergy between traditional forms of learning and leveraging new media. There have been calls to move away from massification of learning, and as a person who is interested in networked approaches, I find sympathies with this. But I think a much more reasonable approach is to ask how we can continue to combine these largely “broadcast” models to help enhance what we do in the traditional face-to-face classroom.
So, I say, let’s keep up with this book-writing thing. It might turn out to actually be worthwhile.