Online learning, MOOC’s, and the Deterioration of Community

Let's hear it for "co-presence"!

Postman, 1995: “When two human beings get together, they're co-present, there is built into it a certain responsibility we have for each other, and when people are co-present in family relationships and other relationships, that responsibility is there. You can't just turn off a person. On the Internet, you can. And I wonder if this doesn't diminish that built-in, human sense of responsibility we have for each other. Then also one wonders about social skills; that after all, talking to someone on the Internet is a different proposition from being in the same room with someone--not in terms of responsibility but just in terms of revealing who you are and discovering who the other person is. As a matter of fact, I'm one of the few people not only that you're likely to interview but maybe ever meet who is opposed to the use of personal computers in school because school, it seems to me, has always largely been about how to learn as part of a group. School has never really been about individualized learning but about how to be socialized as a citizen and as a human being, so that we, we have important rules in school, always emphasizing the fact that one is part of a group. And I worry about the personal computer because it seems, once again to emphasize individualized learning, individualized activity.”



Support Your Local Baker! (And Professor, too!)

No one would argue that access to higher education shouldn't be broadened. But one effect of this process will likely be the laying off of thousands of professors who are building communities across the country by forming relationships with students, fellow faculty, community leaders, and the general public.

One thing we've learned from the history of science is that the more researchers, the better. A large community of inquiry helps find mistakes and leads to greater numbers of unexpected combinations of ideas and talents. The danger of the Coursera phenomenon is that it breeds the (false) notion of learning by the "Great Professor."

In contrast, I'd suggest that every town needs local heroes: great bakers, a great restauranteurs, and yes, great professors. Knowledge at a distance, via technology, may save a soul here or there (by bringing water to an educational desert or two), but it wittingly or unwittingly furthers the reduction of knowledge to information and impoverishes the connections which make society humane.