There are some things that can’t be learned from books – and some are among the most important lessons we will ever learn. How to love. The importance of children. The way a California sunset feels at the end of a 12-hour workday…
But there is also a huge amount that we can learn from books. Or from the modern-day equivalent, the Internet. And that aspect of education – both teaching and learning – is currently undergoing a revolution that will forever change the way we think about knowledge.
Like any revolution, there’s good and bad in it. First, let’s look at the good.
The Internet provides a multimedia environment in which knowledge can be delivered in a number of different formats, or in multiple formats at the same time. Some of us learn through visual stimulation; some through auditory stimulation; and some through practical, hands-on experience. Internet-based learning can provide or facilitate any learning dynamic, enabling more students to succeed.
In a traditional classroom, students all have to move at the same pace. If you’re good at a subject, you sit twiddling your thumbs while the other students catch up. If you’re struggling, you’re rushed along without fully understanding the material. Online instruction allows students to complete lessons quickly when they have the facility, while lingering on the lessons that challenge them in order to gain real and confident knowledge.
Today, the vast majority of online education offerings are practical, such as the IT certification courses offered by Upper Training (http://www.uppertraining.com). They aren’t the esoteric, thinking subjects offered by schools like Evergreen State College. That emphasis on practicality has its limitations culturally, but it affords students an opportunity to get the education they need to perform a job quickly and efficiently. Theoretically, they can read Foucault on their own time.
When I went to school I had to schedule work around classes and classes around work, and it was always a challenge to get my shifts and my school schedule to line up. Online instruction tends to be on-demand, allowing even a busy working professional to gain knowledge and needed certifications without giving up anything…except maybe Castle on Monday nights.
But even with all those advantages, online education still has some challenges. Most critics focus on the lack of cultural curriculum (arts, philosophy, etc.) offered by most educators. I see different limitations.
Just as there are good and bad colleges, there are good and bad online education programs. The problem is that online educators tend to be for-profit, sudden arrivals; they don’t have the longstanding presence and tradition of a physical university. So it’s harder to know whether you’re signing up with a school that’s going to give you a great education or just take your money.
Smart young people can save a lot of time and money by getting a practical online education in a career area and then using that as the foundation of a traditional university degree. However, not all online credits transfer, and the standards aren’t always the same between career colleges and traditional educators. Students have to ask the right questions and go in with their eyes open.