Reading John Gatto’s pioneering work Dumbing Us Down, and took to musing on one of the paragraphs, this one from Dan Greenberg, founder of Sudbury Valley School, who wanted to look at what students need from modern education in a modern economic, social and political landscape:
Children must grow up in an environment that stresses self-motivation and self-assessment. Schools that focus on external motivating factors, such as rewards and punishments for meeting goals set by others, are denying children the tools they need most to survive.
As noted in my previous post looking at Thomas Friedman’s thoughts on MOOCs, there is a disconnect between the idea that education needs to produce a strong workforce and the idea that education needs to produce creative, critical and divergent thinkers who can tackle multi-faceted problems facing society and the world at large. Writers such as Gatto (2002), Stephen Ball (2003), and P. Taylor Webb (2009) see the contemporary political and curricular landscape of education as a system of rewards and disciplines, from the national level and No Child Left Behind all the way down to the individual classroom providing stickers or detentions. Such an environment, based on standardized assessment of content remembered, facilitates a workforce to provide a good or service rather than to tackle complexity. Even more general-minded individuals such as Sir Ken Robinson (2009) see a problem with a school system designed to produce scalable assessable results rather than critical, creative and divergent outcomes based on the context of the content.
Educators say the way to produce critical, creative and divergent thought is to utilize a number of the existing learning theories (constructivism, project-based learning, social learning, even some cognitive style) in a manner that encourages authority, authenticity, agency and understanding of the issue in its myriad of complexity. This is difficult to do in a landscape of standardized assessment, funding inequality, and competitive racing to a federally-mandated destination. The imagined landscape fosters development of internal motivation, while the existing plays into external ones.
I’ve been fascinated by motivation since reading Herman Witkin’s work on field dependence and field independence (1977 for a full summary; his original research began in the 50s), produced in an effort to see if individuals looked inside themselves (independence) or to outside influences (dependence) to make decisions. A lot of recent writing on this is junk science, saying that some people are internally motivated and others are externally and that’s just how it is, but Witkin’s work and subsequent studies have shown an ability to influence where motivation comes from…it’s not a black-or-white genetic thing, but rather a spectrum where individuals can fall.
What does this have to do with MOOCs? Well, a MOOC provides content in a course module without the non-content aspects of an educational setting (these including scaffolding, motivation and context within environment and society). This is one of the difficulties of distance education, and study in distance ed (which, it needs to be mentioned, has not been utilized in the development of xMOOCs). There is a school of thought that heutagogy, which is a theory of learning based around adult education, is a good model for distance education. But at the heart of heutagogy is the notion of self-directed, internally motivated learners.
And as the evidence (albeit limited so far; MOOCs are still new and research takes a while to get to publication) suggests, the primary factor in finishing a MOOC is a sense of internal motivation. However, with the exception of higher income individuals, schooling is not providing opportunities for internal motivation to grow. So how can the disruptive technology of MOOCs take hold if the main pre-requisite for success doesn’t exist in people who the MOOC is supposed to serve?