Online Training vs. Online Education

 

If you are a fan of what is called “online education,” you might want to read the piece my friend Cliff Orwin published today in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. The key to understanding his contention that online and education are terms that do not belong together is the fact that he distinguishes education from training: “By ‘education,'” he writes,

I don’t mean training or even mere instruction. Widget-making (however complex the widget) may well be teachable online. By education I mean formation of the whole person, to which the humanities have traditionally aspired – as have the natural and social sciences in their noblest conceptions of themselves.

Orwin does not deny that an electronic component can be useful. He recognizes that viewing a lecture on a screen from afar at one’s leisure can be an advantage. But he insists that something of great importance will always be missing.

The New York Times of July 19 contained an excellent column by the University of Virginia’s Mark Edmundson. He explained why teaching requires the physical presence of the students. Prof. Edmundson likens good teaching to jazz. It is inherently responsive and improvisational. You revise your presentation as it goes, incorporating the students’ evolving reception of it. In response to their response, as individuals and as a group, you devise new variations on your theme. You don’t address students in the abstract or as some anonymous throng scattered throughout cyberspace. You always teach these students, in this room, at this time.

So it matters to me to know who my students are, to know their faces and names, to see how they dress and what they’re reading. I need to talk to them before and after class and listen to what they’re saying among themselves. Above all, it’s crucial for me to hear their voices as they answer my questions and ask their own, to heed their inflections and mark the expressions on their faces. In my large introductory course, I devote a third of the time to discussion. That’s not just so the students can probe me, but so I can probe them.

It’s equally important to the students that I’m there. They need a real person with whom to engage. Someone to interrogate. Someone to persuade them. Someone to resist. Someone with whom they can identify or refuse to identify. Because education addresses the whole person, it requires a real person to model it. It matters to the students not just to hear what I say but to hear the voice in which I say it – the hesitations as well as the certainties. They need an example of someone who, like them, is learning as he goes along – but just happens to be further along than they are.

Live education is expensive, you say? The best things in life tend to be.

What Orwin is arguing for here is, of course, a liberal education, and he knows perfectly well that such an education is not suitable for everyone. But I think that, within the limits he sets, his argument is sound.

The most important course I ever took was a seminar taught on Plato’s Republic at Cornell in 1968/69 by Allan Bloom. I vigorously resisted his argument; I fought against him both terms; and, in part for that reason, he was never especially fond of me. But the exchanges we had nonetheless changed my life. I fought him until he persuaded me, and those exchanges inspired me to do a great deal of reading in subsequent years as I struggled to understand through the lens of certain great books what was going on all around me.

There was  an electricity in that seminar that I have always tried to replicate in my classes. My aim is to provoke and to inspire — to get the students to interrogate the texts that they are reading and to think. And when I succeed, as I sometimes do, they force me to rethink — for, if they get drawn in, they either resist my interpretation or press it further than I have.

The same thing can happen as a consequence of a lecture. Most often, things come alive when I open things up for questions. Sometimes I learn things I did not know. At other times I have to think on my feet — and when I do I learn things that I would not otherwise learn. Online education cannot be much more than a pale shadow of the education that takes place in a seminar or when questions are posed.

Training may well be another matter. A video can help me see how to put a bike together. A video can teach me the rules of poker (especially if I can watch it twice). An online lecture can help me understand Hamlet. But it is not a substitute for what goes on in a seminar on Hamlet. Some things cannot be done on the cheap, alas.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @donaldtodd
    Crow’s Nest

    Even still, as a kind of capstone and ornament which completes all of these vital activities, and as the peak from which one can see each its place and purpose, liberal education itself aids in this character formation process (any that be worthy of the name, that is). · 35 minutes ago

    If you read the issues involved with the PC movement, especially on college campuses, it would appear that liberal arts have been shifted into the American Gulag of education.  

    I think that there are several colleges, Hillsdale comes to mind, where there is really an effort to instill goodness as a virtue in the students.  Unfortunately these colleges are the exception, not the rule.

    Since young people might want to be employable, or eligible for continuing education, they have to deal with the professors they get.  A PC professor is still a professor.  

    I don’t know the workaround for that problem.

    However I believe that Art Institutes, DeVry, ITT Tech and similar venues are more desirable than much of what I am hearing about.  Those schools actually want their graduates to succeed in their fields.

    • #121
  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    @CrowsNest
    Donald Todd: If you read the issues involved with the PC movement, especially on college campuses, it would appear that liberal arts have been shifted into the American Gulag of education.

    etc 

    I’m familiar with them. There is nothing liberal or educated about them. They are a cancer in the university system, and they are responsible for a great deal of chaos and rot in their wild-eyed, willy-nilly confusion and malice.

    I want to be clear that no college can instill virtue alone. Waiting that late is far too long. Some colleges actively undermine it. If you read through what I said in #50 closely, I regard liberal education, not the school, as the final step, and the case of many not a necessary one at all.

    • #122
  3. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar

    Professor Rahe, I agree that in-person learning is preferable over online learning if a university has good professors–but only if it has good professors, and plenty do not. If a student’s choice is between a mediocre state university or an online course taught by an Ivy League professor, the latter will probably give him a better education.

    • #123
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    Skyler: It is not only slander, but it shows a remarkable degree of ignorance as to what being an engineer, scientist, nurse or a doctor is.

    Science is not just learning techniques.  Engineering is not just copying methods.  Anyone who claims that is not educated. · 22 hours ago

    Engineers, doctors, and nurses are not highly educated positions in a thoughtful, philosophical, “scientific” sense.  They are vocational skills, more or less.  Doctors are the the worst; I don’t think primary care practitioners need anywhere near the education they receive.  But even engineering has a vocational tinge to it.

    • #124
  5. Profile Photo Inactive
    @user_498786

    If you gut medicine all you will get is holistic mumbo-jumbo. Physicians need more than rote training b/c their professional careers span about 40 yrs and many new innovations occur during that time period. A pure technician has trouble integrating new knowledge & techniques d/t their shallower knowledge base- think MD vs Physician Assistant or anesthesiologists vs CRNAs. Moreover, William Oslers famous adage at the med school graduation- along the lines of: ” half of what we taught you is wrong, we just don’t know which half”- the longer education of MDs facilitates the addition/correction of knowledge.

    • #125
  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @user_498786

    Prof Rahe- I wish I could agree with you more. Ideally, you are  correct-but in practice I think the online revolution is for the better. First, much of our current HS and college education is dreadful- large, impersonal, lectures by mediocre (at best) speakers. Academic Earth/Kahn academy allow students to get presentations by gifted experts in their field- with more than 30-50 students a canned lecture is at least as good. Second, the barbarians have taken over the academy- it is almost too late to use the liberal arts to “save” western culture. The current regime is pedantic, obscurantist, and thoroughly infected with the “isms”. Look at the trash they have tried to foist- Howard Zinn’s text is a best seller etc.-The academy’s failure may seal its fate. Their is no doubt pockets of true liberal education remain- but they are just that, isolated pockets of resistance. The online universe may save it by providing a competion that will destroy the current illiberal academy & leave the pockets as the shining cities on the hill. Eventually I think a hybrid will emerge-but i believe the Kahn method will predominate at the HS level.

    • #126
  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    @ChuckMenoFalls
    Joseph Eagar

    Doctors are the the worst; I don’t think primary care practitioners need anywhere near the education they receive.  But even engineering has a vocational tinge to it.

    I have to jump in here as I find this statement rather odd in the context of this discussion.

    I may be off, but I interpret the context of this thread to be “We need people who understand the big picture, not just the tactical ins and outs of the task at hand.”   Following that context, the assertion at a PCP is over educated (presumably because they only need to be concerned with the sniffles, routine immunizations, and perhaps a digital exam) is absurd. How can we espouse the value of existential questions of existence, but deny the value in understanding, and treating the whole patient, not just presented symptoms.  

    Surely this concept is appropriate and contextually germane when a PCP is discussing end of life options with their patient.

    • #127
  8. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    ChuckMenoFalls

    I have to jump in here as I find this statement rather odd in the context of this discussion.

    I may be off, but I interpret the context of this thread to be “We need people who understand the big picture, not just the tactical ins and outs of the task at hand.”   Following that context, the assertion at a PCP is over educated (presumably because they only need to be concerned with the sniffles, routine immunizations, and perhaps a digital exam) is absurd. How can we espouse the value of existential questions of existence, but deny the value in understanding, and treating the whole patient, not just presented symptoms.  

    Surely this concept is appropriate and contextually germane when a PCP is discussing end of life options with their patient. · 4 minutes ago

    Nope.  Philosophy has nothing to do with primary care.  Holistic approaches aren’t going to come from studying Plato; they’ll come from studying Indian doctors who actually give real medical examinations.  They certainly don’t come from the scientific method as applied by bio-medicine (at least not in ethnically diverse populations).

    • #128
  9. Profile Photo Inactive
    @ChuckMenoFalls
    Joseph Eagar

    Nope.  Philosophy has nothing to do with primary care. 

    I think I can agree to that, but not the inverse as the practice is derived from the practitioners theory.  Also, I’d suggest greater success in your stance if you attempted to eviscerate a medical specialty vs primary care.

    Joseph Eagar

    Holistic approaches aren’t going to come from studying Plato; they’ll come from studying Indian doctors who actually give real medical examinations. 

    Taken at face value, in precisely what way would it matter which philosopher was being followed?

    • #129
  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MichaelKersey

    There is a knowledge and education dichotomy, but hopefully wisdom comes into play somewhere along the line. As for myself,  I’m still wrestling with ideas and characters and putting to use skills of thought and writing that I first encountered in seminars on The Prince, The Discourses,  The Republic, and The Laws at a liberal arts college in Oklahoma some twenty odd years ago.  Over time I have received benefits that I could not have anticipated or expected. Thank you Dr. Rahe.

    • #130
  11. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Good to have you back, Professor!  For logistical and disability-related reasons, I pursued an M. A. in Theology and Christian Ministry through the Distance Learning Program at Franciscan University of Steubenville [1998-2006].  I’m a self-starter and imposed a structure on myself that wasn’t entirely present at the founding of the program in ’98.  The audio lectures, texts, phone/e-mail contacts, and the copiously margin-noted papers offered ample contact with knowledgeable instructors. Discussion with pastors/family/friends filled in the peer contact gap admirably.  As a non-traditional student, I found this non-traditional method served me well.

    • #131
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