Home > college, online education, teaching > The Failed Crop of the Online Education Harvest

The Failed Crop of the Online Education Harvest

I was pointed to the Michael Karnjanaprakorn article “Does the Online Education Revolution Mean the Death of the Diploma?” by More or Less Bunk.  Bunk, sarcastically says that:

Because we know that learners already know everything they need to know about what they’re learning, why shouldn’t they decide how best to teach what they’re learning too?

I am a proponent of student centered learning, but Bunk is right.  It is a big reach to say that learners will be able to carve out their own paths.  I think that some students do and can do this, but many would struggle with this concept.  The key for this type of learning is critical thinking skills and dialogue between teachers and students (which roles should be interchangeable to a degree).  The is that students usually don’t acquire these skills in high school, because they are drilled with the banking education model and high stakes standardized tests.

Karnjanaprakorn lists five ways in which his “Education Harvest” is being sowed.

The first three points are all basically connected to how education harvest will be online. First, he talks about the anywhere classroom.  He believes that since cell phones, and especially smart phones, are becoming more prevalent that students will be more likely to use them to learn.  How cellphones specifically will facilitate learning we don’t learn here. Socratic texting maybe? He also says that since e-books and online videos like, TED talks and Kahn Academy, are going to become more available then they will be more widely used.

There are a couple of problems here.  First, its not just a problem with how Karnjanaprakorn is thinking, but a problem with education in general.  These people believe that all learning can just be dumped into the heads of the students.  Paulo Friere writes in Education for Critical Consciousness:

The role of the educator is not to “fill” the educatee with “knowledge,” technical or otherwise.  It is rather to attempt to move towards a new way of thinking in both educator and educatee, through the dialogical relationships between both.  The flow is in both directions.  The best student in physics or mathematics, at school or university, is not one who memorizes formulae but one who is aware of the reason for them.  (p. 112)

To assume by listening videos and reading e-books will cultivate a critical learning experience it a major reach.  Books have been around and available in libraries forever and still don’t get touched.  Making them digital will increase access, but how can we assume it will increase the reading of important texts to a field and will that in turn increase the understand of those texts.  Reading takes more than just reading.  Lastly, students just aren’t reading as much in general.

It is important to cultivate real relationships between the student and teacher.  It is through this dialogical relationship that critical thinking is borne. The teacher interacts with the student to make sure that learning is personalized, meaningful, and provided in a situation that allows for the student to think independently and creatively.   It is also important that students learning is put in context and not just a set of random ideas.

This is my main beef with online education.  It basically believes that teaching comes down to a formula.  Get it right and then you can replicate it for all and get rid of the rest of the teachers.  This is not true.  As I have said before I believe that teaching is an art, not a science.  This is another rung on the ladder to deskill the teaching position.  

I put his idea in this formula: E-books + Youtube Videos + tweets x anywhere= learning. It’s just so simple. Yet flawed.  It reminds me of that Forbes blog post,a couple of month ago, where that old white guy talked about how he would get out of poverty if he was black, just read stuff online.  Real learning is much more than that.

Karnjanaprakorn says that Facebook and Twitter to determine their strengths or weaknesses.  I’d just like to ask, how so? If I could guess what my Facebook and Twitter friends areas of expertise would be, I would guess it was baby pictures and dumb youtube videos.

He also talks about how textbooks are becoming digital and lectures are being posted online (hey, isn’t this point 1), but this again makes the assumption that just reading material and listening to lectures will equal learning.  It does not.  It might fill students with random facts, but without context, real learning situations, and teacher-student interactions, this type of learning will be superficial.  I guess somebody could tweet me why neoliberalism and education don’t mix, but I don’t think I would get the point in 140 characters (maybe with emoticons).

Now, the last two points I think that Karnjanaprakorn is onto something, but with cavaets.  I think that the idea of Do-It-Yourself education is a very powerful one, but you need to know what you are looking for.  You need to develop the skills needed to understand what you are trying to learn.  I have BA in History and MA in education.  Now a majority of my days are spent involved in DIY learning, but I would have never learned the skills to be successful at this without the help of my teachers in college.  Where there bad teachers that had no effect on me.  Hell ya, but the ones who helps me, helped in such profound ways that I don’t know where I’d be without them.

As far as accreditation is concerned, I agree as well that it sucks that many jobs require that you have a specific form of accreditation.  As a social studies teacher, I have to get accredited in each area of social studies I want to teach like economics or geography.  I have to take college courses to get this.  Accreditation stinks, but I think that there does need to be accountability for certain professions.  Now, if you want to start a company like Karnjanaprakorn then more power to you and you don’t need accreditation.  (Although he does have accreditation, where I sure he learned valuable skills that he would have not otherwise).

I just don’t think that his predications will pan out.  He says that education is all about the doers, and that academics and theorists are the past.  This will result in shoddy work done by amateurs. He says

Start your own company, build a website, organize an event, get a side project, and you’ll make it.

Has he seen the success rates of start ups?  This just isn’t true, but it is key to remember that he is trying to sell his own product here.  He also distorts some facts from the Forbes top 500.  First, he plays a nifty trick saying that the 6 of the top 10 didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but they all went to college.  Second, he says only 19 of the top 100 didn’t go to college or dropped out.  In actuality, 19 out of the top 500 didn’t drop out.  Now see if I had learned how to be a historian in an online class, I might not have learned about the importance of checking other people’s sources.  He also gives us four companies, I have never heard of who don’t ask for resumes.  Great, but the reality of it is that 99.9% of companies you apply to are going to want resumes and accreditation.

I think that the online class how he envisions it would be great for the type of things that are on his website, Skillshare, for example “How to talk football like a Pro”.  Which is great, but it also shows the limitations of his harvest.  It seems like a nice little business, to go to learn a hobby, but it would never be able to replicate the learning experience of college. His crops have been hit by a drought and I’m afraid they won’t be able to feed all that are in need.

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