Friday, February 8, 2013
On Questioning Clay Shirky by Aaron Bady
This is an excellent response to Clay Shirky’s view that On-line Education is going to happen whether Universities like it or not. It is well thought through, easy to read and understand, albeit that it is a bit wordy. Bady seriously questions the value of the MOOC but he also misses some points mainly because he is talking only about the USA and California in particular. Here are some of my observations: - My organisation in Zimbabwe needs ‘Just-in-Time’ learning for many of the technical and non-technical staff we employ. We cannot afford THE TIME or THE MONEY to send them to a local university where the quality of education is, today, abysmal due largely to under-funding by government, the drift of qualified and experienced teaching staff to ‘greener pastures’ in the region, and indeed worldwide. We tried this once and sent a key member of staff to a local university on an MSc in Computer Science. He probably learned something but the evidence is not there for us to see. We spent money – and the much more needed resource – time – to help him learn. Right now we have completed an exercise in Risk Management development with an expensive consultant. Now we need a Risk Management Officer. We have a relatively junior member of staff who was involved in assisting the consultant. She has a high intrinsic motivation to learn to be a competent Risk Management Officer. She needs to learn the principles and the practice. How do we help her to learn? Sending her to University on an MSc in Risk Management is not an option. We need her working now. We cannot afford the time or the money. Do we ignore her and hire a qualified Risk Management expert? Or do we help this young lady to learn? We haven’t answered that question yet. We will have to answer it very soon and it will depend entirely on how, and at what cost and TIME we can afford her. I was intrigued by the comment to Bady's blog from Donald Scott: “Corporations would benefit from educated students, but what they want is trained students...the internet is wonderful for training” This comment was later rubbished by another respondee. But Scott’s comment is accurate in the sense that corporations need trained employees. It may not be so accurate in his assessment of ‘the internet is wonderful for training’. Nothing is FREE! Not even the MOOC. For me it is an expensive investment in my time. That I am learning is beyond question. But the question does remain how valuable is the learning to me as a ‘corporate mentor’? Hopefully this question will be answered in the next few weeks. Now here’s a lesson that I learned many years ago and still applies, even to Bady and his colleagues. ALL (and I use this word in spite of being warned against doing so by Bady) education and training is USELESS unless the learner is able and willing to apply some of the lessons to his work, his life, his family, whatever the purpose of the learning. If a learner simply learns from Yale, Harvard, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, Ohio, University of Zimbabwe, wherever and then does not apply and practice the principles, he/she should have saved his/her money and spent it on something else – perhaps to climb Mount Everest or traverse the South Pole. The probability is that the seat of learning is unable to help the learner follow through. The learner has to do this. Not necessarily alone, but with the help of others. Many years ago I went on my first ‘Leadership Course’ and I learned many new ideas that I had never heard of before. I was enthused; I was motivated to change my behaviour. (Changing behaviour is essential if one is to learn anything of practical value). I returned to my workplace. I discussed my new ideas with the MD. He rejected them out of hand with a statement that when he was a young man, if he didn’t do what he was told, he was kicked in the a*se, and that was the way he managed things. My ideas were rejected out of hand. I had no opportunity to try them out, learn from my attempts, find out more. I left the organisation. I could afford to. I found another place to practice my ideas. Some worked, some didn’t. I learned from my experiences. That’s how people really learn. But back the argument for and against the MOOC principle. There may not be much value in the USA but here in Africa I can see many opportunities for many underfunded, underprivileged people. Yes, I do miss the opportunity to talk directly to the Faculty, but surprisingly, or perhaps not, I am learning from my colleagues, from the threads, the blogs and the tweets and if I want to talk somebody about the MOOC, I can!