As I was reading an article about MOOCs in the journal Thought & Action, I began to ruminate on the difference between general learning and proven knowledge. It is never a waste to learn anything new, nor is it a fruitless experience to be self-taught; there are many successful artists, writers, and entrepreneurs who learned in informal environments or through traditional apprenticeships (OK, there are evaluations in and qualifications to meet in an apprenticeship, but not quite the same as in academia). However, when it comes to being certain someone truly understands particular content or processes and is qualified to say he or she has researched materials related to the topic accurately, there are concerns. The reason why we have to interact with an authority and take tests and write our own papers or prove confidence and understanding of a pose and its benefits is because we cannot be certain ourselves that we are on the right track without clear feedback offered in a timely manner. By timely I mean on the heels of our work so that we still have the content fresh on our minds.
I am for MOOCs as long as we see them as the online books they are. I equate them with going to the library and reading as much as you can on a particular subject. And MOOCs are only as effective as the student’s level of engagement and understanding. Having spent many years in classroom teaching and having had students who struggle unless they have regular access to me and immediate feedback for their work, I can safely say that no one can rely on a person’s word that taking a MOOC qualifies as actually taking a class and learning the content–properly. Sure tests are offered in many MOOCs, but we all know multiple choice is an odds game at best. Formal assessment that includes critical reading and analytical writing–or actually demonstrating a pose and modifications–sets the stage for the student to prove understanding and to show how much effort he has expended.
Honestly, a MOOC is really a mass book (or writing or math or history) club really. All effort at learning is tempered by a lack of accountability. Learning is also about performance. And social interaction. Most education requires some sort of assessment. Imagine a student of MOOCs stepping into the workforce ill prepared to support his decisions or recall his training from those courses when he has never has to produce an independent product for himself? How will he respond to critiques and corrections? What if your yoga instructor can’t actually demonstrate a pose mush less help you modify it? While I don’t advocate earning degrees simply for the purpose of becoming employable, all of us must work. All of us should be able to apply multiple experiences and course topics so as to perform as well-rounded individuals and prove ourselves to be assets rather than narrowly focused, one-dimensional robots. A well-rounded education anchored in environments that require assessments that highlight individual accomplishments is necessary if we are going to truthfully say we’ve taken a class and learned something.
Could you imaging taking a yoga class from someone who took a MOOC? Would you trust this person with your physical and spiritual wellbeing? Think very carefully about your instructor’s training and experience. Being critical of someone’s qualifications is not working in opposition of yogic principles, its ensuring that everyone is adhering to them. Dishonesty, repressing stress instead of eliminating the source, and promoting self-delusion in relation to ability helps no one.
All educators and their students must be accountable for their training and for their legacy.