eLearning is all about searching and connecting

Harold talks about the new business of learning. As a university professor, I’m in the “learning business”. Harold makes it clear that if all I do is provide content to my students, then I compete against Google and I will lose:

I have already talked about Google as the best learning platform around. No LMS can compete with it.

What is worse is that all my students are nodes in an infinite see of people and knowledge:

We’re all individuals and we all have access to the world’s information and can connect with pretty well anyone we want (think long tail). The basis of all business models has changed. The basis for the training business is changing too.

A related question is “how can a classroom lecture compete?”

I have a strinkingly similar question: “why do I have to line up for hours just to renew my driver’s license when all I do is submit a form to an attendant? why couldn’t I fill a form on the web? Is the human interaction element really worth that much of my time?”

3 thoughts on “eLearning is all about searching and connecting”

  1. Classrooms and universities work precisely because they are an explicit carving out of time for the purpose of learning. I have just about all of the learning resources I need at my hands already, yet I still don’t know how to speak Italian. It’s because I’ve never put forth the time to learn it.

    Google is not a competitor to the lecture. Think of graduate school; only the first year or two even involve lectures. Google is just a wonderfully large and accessible library; it’s a great tool for the student, as is the lecture, access to the professor and other students, and being in an environment dedicated to learning.

    I can think of two of my experiences that drive the point home. The first, when I was 12 or so and refused to memorize formulas for calculating volumes. A substitute math teacher explained the basic concept of calculating volumes (instead of the damned formulas) in about 45 seconds. I haven’t forgotten them since.

    The second: in graduate school, we cornered Christos Papadimitriou as he was attempting to get coffee and had him explain NP completeness one more time. I remember the complete clarity that engulfed me. I understood everything in the world. It lasted about two days. Google can’t compete with that.

    Now lectures over the web, that’s quite attractive, particularly for “adult learners” such as myself that unfortunately are not involved in academia anymore.

  2. To prove that “Google is not a competitor to the lecture”, you give two examples, but both of your examples don’t imply a “classroom lecture”. Rather, they imply you are connected with people (a famous scientist and an instructor). I don’t see the classroom as an ingredient here. Maybe the school as a “meeting place”. But not the classroom lecture…

    If the school as a “meeting place” is the key ingredient here, then let’s do away with the classroom and let’s organize schools in a way that we can go there just for the sake of chatting with smart people. Maybe a bit like a coffee shop.

    Also, most interaction I have with smart people these days is through blogs and emails. Physical meeting places are nice, sometimes useful, but they are also expensive and sometimes a luxury.

    Also, to be precise, I did not write that Google was a competitor to the lecture, but if all you do during a lecture is to provide content (static content) then neither of your examples work (because they are interactive examples), and then Google can do it better most of the time.

    Want to learn about differential geometry? You can either attend a classroom lecture where a guy will write equations on a board and talk about the topic, or else you can go on Google and type “differential geometry”. Which one is more efficient? Clearly the second one.

    “AH! But lectures are interactive”, you might object. Maybe. Some of the time. But most of the 50+ students lecture rooms I have seen don’t lead to much interaction at all *except* between students. But students know how to interact with each other without the classroom these days: ICQ, email, posting boards…

    Finally, there is the point you are making about your own life. Generally, people can afford classroom lectures up until about 25. Older people can’t easily manage these lectures. So, a hidden assumption here is that past 25, you’ve learned all you needed to learn. Might have been true in 1960. I doubt it will be true in 2010. I’ve learned as much in the last 5 years, than between 15 and 20. I haven’t stopped learning, if anything else, I have to learn faster and faster.

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