A truly new medium

Yesterday, I linked to a post by Johanna Vondeling that argues in part "the internet is the classroom" for educational publishers. The buzz around massively open online courses, or MOOCs, may be approaching that early hype-cycle peak, but at least some of the thinking around them is much more practical.

Writing at MOOC News and Reviews, John Duhring offers one example of grounded consideration, "Mooc production values: Costs, approaches and examples". His post makes three points:

  • MOOC production is a lot of work
  • There's no consensus on how to teach using MOOC tools
  • Best practice need not be glitzy (but it can be)

Duhring's most sobering observation addresses the challenges of rethinking education itself:

[P]rofessors are challenged to rethink how they present even their most familiar material. They must organize their courses differently, learn new production techniques and develop new methods for interacting with students.

This is the consumption-side challenge of a workflow problem. I've written before that in the best workflows, "form follows function". The same is true when it comes to developing instructional content (form and substance) for new and untested environments.

In the early days of television (I am told), it was used to broadcast shows that were developed and presented much as they had been for radio audiences in the time before TV was commercialized. Later, new techniques and approaches to televised content were tried and tested. Some of these innovations extended the old order; others challenged it.

In hindsight, the interplay among medium, technology and audience seems obvious, but it took place in fits and starts. What we take for granted today – instant replay in sports, for example – was not even a blip on the horizon for Philo Fransworth in 1927.

It seems clear that we should be rethinking education. Today, most MOOCs capitalize on an approach that has worked passably well for in-person lectures. Techniques and content to engage both wider audiences and niche groups are just now being tried. Whatever the potential for online education, we can be pretty sure its successful forms have yet to be invented.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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