Tag Archives: Prussia

Assembly Line Learning – Excerpts from MOOC Research

Note: I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course. The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license. The following is from Chapter 1, the argument for significance. This excerpt looks at the hype-based MOOC arguments seen in news media, as well as criticisms on the MOOC and its hype.

Distance education as industrialized model of learning.  As mentioned previously, the field of distance education largely roots its history in structural changes to the transmission of information. This idea of education as a technological structure can be traced within the literature to Otto Peters (1983). Contemporary leaders in the field of educational technology and MOOCs have positioned their technologies as a wave of innovation in a system inert for over 100 years (Khan & Noer, 2012; Thrun, 2012), but Peters traces the inertia back to the Renaissance, arguing the advent of distance education was the first change to the system, and positioning a concept of distance education that promotes flexibility, efficiency and scalability (Peters, 1983). To accomplish this, the historical notion of a singular instructor, who throughout history has been a lone person involved in numerous aspects of a student’s education within a course, is replaced, and the instructional labor is divided into multiple positions filled by multiple individuals, each focused on one aspect of the learning process:

In distance study the teaching process is based on the division of labour and detached from the person of the university lecturer. It is therefore independent from a subjectively determined teaching situation…the division of labour and the objectification of the teaching process allow each work process to be planned in such a way that clearly formulated teaching objectives are achieved in the most efficient manner. Specialists may be responsible for a limited area in each phase (pg. 98).

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Sal Khan’s History of (the structure of) Education

In a video interview with Forbes magazine, Sal Khan worked through a history of education, starting with an industrial view of the classroom experience (which Khan calls the Prussian model) and ending with Internet-based personalized learning such as his Khan Academy.

From this perspective, education has the potential to evolve from an age-defined small cohort model to a capability-defined infinite system where the individual is not restrained by the relative progress of others.  Following that thread, such a system could not only change the dynamic of the classroom, but could reinvent the classroom, or even remove the bricks and mortar classroom altogether.  Such potential greatly benefits students, according to this perspective.

There is pushback on this general belief system, as well as this interpretation of history — Audrey Watters provides a detailed critique of what Khan leaves out of his history, summarizing the facts into a call for perspective: Continue reading