A few weeks ago, in “Why MOOCs are like Farmville,” I opined that once the hype surrounding MOOCs died down, and they progressed from the peak of inflated expectations down through the trough of disillusionment to finally reach a plateau of productivity, their lasting impact likely will be dramatically different from what many today now expect. One of the most lasting effects will be on the ‘sage on the stage’ and the end of the classroom lecture.
Many proponents of MOOCs fall short when they advocate using technology to replicate the classroom lecture by beaming out lectures from star faculty members to students who access these courses over the Internet. Such a model replaces the physical with the digital, but this represents the use of technology to drive efficiency and scalability – it does not pose a significant shift in the nature of the learning processes. This is because, like the classroom lecture, the use of online technologies in this manner presupposes the role of the faculty to be one of content creator, while the role of the student is to be one of content subscriber. In such a model, the nature of collaboration itself does not change. This shortchanges the true impacts of the Internet regarding teaching and learning, even if the lectures come from faculty judged to be the best in the world.
A more lasting and impactful form of change results when we understand that the Internet has disrupted the traditional relationships between content creators and content subscribers, so that all individuals in a relationship can now play both roles, acting simultaneously as content creators and subscribers. In these types of relationships, learning becomes more about the processes of learning – the processes of creating knowledge – and less about the processes of consuming or retaining knowledge itself. In the world of Google, facts can be accessed quickly and efficiently at any time, from any place, and with any device – so rote mastery of facts is no longer the core of learning. Instead, knowing what to do with those facts – or, more importantly, imparting the processes by which those facts are created – rightfully becomes the center of the learning processes itself. That does not mean that faculty should not stand before students and speak, but that speech should be to evangelize, to inspire, and to demonstrate and not simply as a mechanism to impart knowledge.
Technology remains an important tool. Social networking tools provide the opportunity to engage others broadly and to provide instant feedback, while advanced analytical software provides capabilities to identify previously invisible patterns in “big data.” Our future economic success will be heavily dependent upon our ability to develop these capacities in our students. However, this success no longer depends upon using outmoded approaches to instruction, like the classroom lecture, as a singular mechanism for imparting knowledge to others.
The most lasting impact of the Internet is this – everyone is a sage now.