Experiential Education in the Land of the MOOCS

“My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”

-Anais Nin

distance-education101707amWith the rise of internet-based distance learning and projects such as EdX in higher education, significant questions are being asked about the viability of so-called “bricks and mortal” educational environments. If 200,000 people can sign up for a course for free on EdX or take a course through Coursera, what role and function does the professor-in-the-classroom have in the future of teaching and learning?

Well, there are already signs that the MOOC (Massive, Open, On-Line Courses) craze may have been a bit over-hyped (see here). Nonetheless, few would deny we are in a new “Gutenberg Press” moment in higher education. What role does experiential education play in this brave new world?

I believe the teacher-of-the-not-too distant future will be a “curator of experience.” If facts and information of all sorts are readily available in the palm of our hand, teachers are not needed to deliver said facts. We have smart phones, tablets, and networked computers that can deliver data and information at a far greater speed and at far greater scales of cost effectiveness than a teacher in a classroom. The large lecture hall, long the symbol of “academic rigor” in higher education, suddenly seems outdated and strikingly ineffective.

So what are teachers for, then? Data and information are not synonyms for learning and education. A teacher is the one, working collaboratively with students, that moves the conversation from data and information to knowledge and wisdom. The world is awash in the first two and in desperate need of the second two. The transformative teacher of the future will learn to curate experiences with and for students. Civic engagement, community-based research, place-based learning, project-based learning– these things cannot be readily outsourced to the internet. And, importantly, they represent skills the world desperately needs. Working in teams, dialoguing across differences, listening respectfully, and simply interacting in public, social, spaces are vital for democratic life. Our students must not learn that “hell is other people.”

These forms of teaching and learning don’t reject on-line, blended educational opportunities. Rather, they place such learning in proper perspective– as a supplement to what Parker Palmer called the “live encounter” between students, faculty, and communities of interest. Staring into a computer screen all day is no way to live and no way to build a vibrant, democratic society. As Nin says in the quotation above, the best ideas come “in the midst of living.”

So, bring on MOOCS, bring on distance learning, flipped classrooms, and blended education. Use this new Gutenberg moment to supplement and highlight what transformative teachers have always done best– curating high impact learning experiences for the students in their care.

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One response to “Experiential Education in the Land of the MOOCS

  1. Pingback: Small is Beautiful | Henderson Hallway

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