When I was a freshman at a highly-respected university in a northern clime, I would have paid any amount to convince my psych professor to come to my dorm and share with me, while I lounged in my pajamas, his insights into the intricacies of human behavior. The liquor store just off campus delivered, why not Professor James? But alas, three times a week I had to haul myself out of bed, throw on some clothes and far-from-sensible shoes, and schlep myself across campus and through snowdrifts to sit in a lecture hall and focus on Jung’s collective unconscious. I’m still bitter.
If Governor Pawlenty’s dream comes true (see his recent appearance on the Daily Show), freshmen 20 years from now won’t have to endure such tortures. Instead, they’ll just log on to iCollege, enter their credit card information and absorb all the insights, expertise and knowledge of several thousand years of human history. They’ll engage in frank and open dialogue with concerned professors, discuss antediluvian civilizations and compare notes on heterodox economics…all from the comfort of their homes. Students will log in at the appropriate time, complete their lesson plans as required, stay up late to finish homework and take at least an hour or so each day to consider the long-term impact of globalization on emerging economies.
Education is about more than absorbing information. Education is about learning. At the undergraduate level, education is about learning to be an adult – managing classes, class work and homework. It’s about taking courses in which you think you have no interest only to discover that you are, at your very core, a biologist…or a poet. It is about being exposed to those who differ from you and perhaps even scare you.
At the graduate level, education is about acquiring facts and skills, yes, but it’s also about learning to work with others with different backgrounds, skills, interests and goals…just like the working world. It’s about making the time to dedicate yourself to the acquisition of something more than just a piece of paper.
Online learning is fantastic. The opportunity to locate, at any time or from anywhere, the precise definition of the word antediluvian, for example, is one we can all be thankful for. And this mode of learning should be part of a college or university education. Academia must stay abreast of current technology if only to keep pace with the amount of information being generated online. But e-learning is one small part of learning, just as gym class used to be one small part of an elementary school education. To state otherwise demonstrates either ignorance or sophistry, both of which are unappealing qualities in a governor.