Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some thoughts about online education

The usual optimists —the disruptors and singularity believers— are on one side. The contrarians —the contemptuous, the fearful— stand on the other. In the middle, the ones who have the hunch that, current shortcomings aside, the MOOC model may have something to offer, and that online education a as whole can be (will be) much better than it is right now. The Chronicle of Higher Education is publishing an entire series of articles about that, actually. Here's the latest one, which raises some relevant questions.

Where am I in this debate? You can find out about it in this interview, written by Francis Gagnon, one of the participants in my first intro to infographics and data visualization massive online course. It's almost all in there.

To summarize: I don't think that online education and MOOCs will replace traditional degrees soon. They can't. They are a different kind of educational experience, which may nicely complement what we already have. That's why I prefer to label my own "course" as a workshop. It works as an introduction to the core concepts of what I teach with much more depth at the University of Miami. But I also fear that, as newspaper managers did when they faced the Internet, college administrators will use that argument as an excuse to become wishfully ignorant of an environment that can start mutating rapidly and unpredictably. We humans suck at forecasting and the fact that things have remained the same for ages doesn't mean that they won't suddenly change in a short time. That's what Nassim Nicholas Taleb has called the turkey problem.


  1. Hi Alberto,
    As a professional journalist but also as a teacher with experience in both traditional and on-line teaching, I would like to add some thoughts to your comment. I'm not the usual optimist nor the fearful, as you said, about on-line education. Both systems have their advantages and their drawbacks, which I cannot detail here. Nowadays, you can have a communication degree on-line as well as specializations on multimedia journalism, for instance, as the UOC (www.uoc.edu) does (more than 15 years of experience). One-to-one feedback is necessary even in online teaching, but this is also being minimized with hangouts with video, which was impossible some years ago. To me what makes online education challenging is 1) the personal feedback that it is necessary and 2) very good educational resources and methodology. These points are making the difference between all the possible options available now. Even in online education there are many options: massive course (I haven't taken your course yet, but I have taken other ones and are great) but also complete degrees and post degrees. My experience in designing and directing on-line programs is that on-line learning cannot be planned and applied the same way than in person teaching but this doesn't mean that you cannot learn anything in-depth on-line. So, as you said, if college administrators use it as an excuse, they are ignoring the years of experience in on-line learning in other places.

    BTW, I'm looking forward to attending your massive MOOC in the future.

    Best regards,

    Eva Dominguez

  2. Thanks, Eva. Yes, UOC, where I also teach, as you know, is a great example of constant experimentation