My Answer (sort of) to the Learning is Social & Distance Education is Asocial Argument

Steve Jobs’ passing yesterday has cyberspace in mass memorial mode. Thanks to Dean Christopher Long for posting this quote from Mr. Jobs and may it ring louder with the passing of time…

“Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.” — Steve Jobs, March 2, 2011

Most of this post is from my response to Johann N. Neem’s article “Online Higher Education’s Individualist Fallacy” from Inside Higher Ed. This argument is one I encounter and counter frequently and my answer is worth remembering – even if only for moi.

On great teachers…

We do not have enough great teachers; teachers who are not only content experts, but who continue to learn and contribute and develop personally and who willingly share themselves with their students and their communities.

In four years (125+ credits) of higher education at my local community college and pursuing an undergraduate degree and graduate degree from State U, I can think of six such qualified teachers who I have had the good fortune to learn from, but I was a student in class with only four of them. Three of those four classes had sessions with the same instructor both on campus and online.

On the college experience and shared responsibility…

The “college experience” is no longer experienced by the majority of college students. The traditional full-time residential student is now the minority. For that minority, I hope that the “college experience” will always remain an available option. For students who work, attend in the evening, have families, commute, or attend part-time, the “college experience” is often not a positive experience, which makes sense since it was originally designed around a full-time residential student.

Additionally, the “college experience” follows a spectrum and a broad one at that. To accept one reality of socially energized and collaborative learning and creating, we must accept the opposite end of apathy, partying, and plagiarism. This is a shared responsibility, as I see it, between that great teacher and a great student.

On culture – and I am not just referring to the physical campus…

The culture matters. I don’t care where the learning is taking place. The culture matters. The question then beckons as to whether or not culture can be established and communicated across a distance and, if it can, will culture be valued highly enough to warrant such an effort. This is an excellent question. Is distance education just a doorway to a degree or is it more? I just posed that question yesterday.

On learning as a social endeavor…

I firmly believe that learning should be a social endeavor. It doesn’t have to be, but I recommend it. Technology is a tool and context does matter, but just because online is a different method of delivery does not mean that the end of the spectrum where the reality of socially energized and collaborative learning and creating can’t or doesn’t exist there. It can and it does; how often depends on a number of factors quite similar to those that predict the quality of the learning experience on campus.

Are you surprised? Then I bet you have had few online learning experiences.

2 responses to “My Answer (sort of) to the Learning is Social & Distance Education is Asocial Argument

  1. Thanks, Ralph. Your comment made me think of an experience in elementary school when we had pen pals in Australia. I remember the excitement upon getting a new batch of letters every month of so. Imagine how that experience would have changed had we all been using video chat. 8-)

  2. Education particularly post secondary is a social event. When I entered college my advisor told me two things, that I have over the years found to be true. One “college is the only place you pay for something you don’t want” and two “90% of what you will learn here is not in the classroom”. If you accept that then some brick and mortar college experience is a requirement. I firmly believe that a lot of socialization and high quality education can come from Distance Ed of done right. The acquisition of knowledge and therefore education is a noble journey no matter how it is arrived at. That being said I also believe that for the average K-12 student LMS Distant learning is not appropriate being akin to putting a first grader in front of a computer and saying “teach yourself to read”. The appropriate method for teaching K-12 is either video conference based DE or blended video conference based and LMS. Through a conferencing technique if applied properly the world can soon become smaller and closer to a student. He/she can begin to understand the culture and eco-social difference between peoples communicated with and probably make both students worlds richer and larger. Imagine a world where students from New Orleans and the gulf can meet in an ecology classroom with student from Denver CO what a rich learning environment that is. We as educators have been preaching the global society for many years now let’s use Distance Education to finally make that a reality.