Education, LMS, and Online Worlds

The advances marked by EduSim and OpenSim impress me a lot, but I’m still vexed that people have invested so much energy into building “lessons” and “education” into these online domains.

The longer I homeschool and the more I interact with online technology, the more firm my conviction grows that formal teaching is part of the problem, not part of the answer. Sure, some people learn well from assembly-line containerized pasteurized homogenized educational products — but the world in general is better served by people learning to learn apart from the intrusion of the infrastructure of units, credits, lockstep progression, and “managed” learning (as in “learning [or ‘Lesson’] Management Systems” such as BlackBoard). LMS-world takes as its implicit norm the students who have no distinct excitement about any aspect of learning, so must be coaxed through the educational process as cattle through an abbatoir. Instead, we might set as our exemplary student an Edison or a Volta, and then oriented our educational resources to appealing to that aspect (and capacity) of a learner’s curiosity that most nearly approximates the discoverer’s ceaseless hunger to learn.

The environment for education has always favored interest-based learning, but online technology amplifies the extent to which everyone is an explorer, an inventor, a discoverer. If we could only learn to develop resources that make graduated complexity possible, and then get out of the way, we’d be offering ourselves and our students a much greater gift.