Online Education: As Boring As the Real Deal


Fri, May 11th, 2012 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

After watching his 11-year-old son take online courses at Stanford University, Forbes' Joshua Gans comes to the conclusion that online education is nothing more than watching "a bunch of videos on the Internet" that are rather dull.

So what of the lectures themselves? Professors Jackson and Shoham had done exactly what you would expect. They had taken the Powerpoints slides from their current course and lectured to a camera with their own disembodied heads popping up from time to time. They had divided the course up into chunks so you didn't have to block out two hours at a time to absorb a whole lecture. But that was pretty much it.

And so how did my son react to those? He commented, "I think the concepts are interesting but the presentation is dull. Couldn't they have done animations and things to make it better?" He had a point. Compared to educational videos he had watched these were extraordinarily dull. As I took a look through his eyes, I could see what the problem was: they were exactly like most university lectures. They slowly and methodically take you through the material. Sometimes in a classroom a professor might react to a question with an interesting story or clarifying anecdote. But for these online versions, they were all business. My son asked whether University was really like this and I was sad to say that, in the main, yes it was. More to the point, if you were to ask a current University student what they thought of these videos they would likely think of them as wonderful. After all, this is what they were getting in class but could now pick and choose where and when to attend. They would see the liberation. But for an 11 year old, there was a more demanding standard and, on many levels, a standard worth respecting.



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