one laptop per child sz

To succeed you need two things: to start, and to finish.  Right?  coWORKer Julie Peteren is our resident writer/researcher specializing in education.  She just finished a soon-to-be-published article about education startups that have made big bucks, which led us into a discussion about the increasingly popular — but not yet profitable –MOOCs (massive open online course: a usually free online course open to anyone and potentially having a huge number of enrolled participants).  But the interesting thing here is that starting a course is a lot easier than finishing, especially in the virtual classroom. In fact, MOOC completion rates are extremely low (5-10%) and extremely controversial.

One way to address this issue- add peer pressure.  Too much independence and privacy can mean no accountability.  Create a group dynamic and the natural social influences we’ve evolved to respond to kick in.  We all know that feeling. 

But even with injected peer pressure, most students do not complete these online courses. Does this mean that the student has failed? Or that the course has failed?  Maybe, maybe not.  The fact that thousands more people have been exposed to material they would otherwise not have had access to means that even if only a small percentage of those people succeed in finishing, it’s still a big leg up.

And do we need to finish to succeed? For many things, yes.  That apple pie isn’t much good if you don’t finish baking it.  But learning is a strange thing.  Not completing a class doesn’t mean you walk away with nothing.  In fact, you may have gotten an awful lot out of it- perhaps all that you really need.

And if learning is really your goal, then finishing (or not finishing) that class is only a single step in the right direction.  In fact, learning itself is only the first step.  Practice is what makes us proficient and practice, by its very definition (“to perform or do repeatedly in order to acquire skill or proficiency”) takes time.

Which brings us to another important concept: Schools have been set up with time as fixed and learning as the variable. But if learning is our real goal, perhaps we should look at it the other way around.  And that is the beauty of online learning.  The bell doesn’t ring at three o’clock.  The teacher doesn’t move on to the next subject before you’ve had a chance to digest the first.  You can listen carefully without having to frantically scratch down notes, secure in the knowledge that you can stop, pause, and rewind to your heart’s content.

Take the best of both worlds (the flexibility and repeatability of virtual lectures and the motivation and interaction found in a physical classroom) and you might just end up with ‘flip teaching.’  Do your homework in class with the teachers and students around to help and watch the lesson at home where you can take your time and repeat as necessary.

And while we’re at it, can we redefine ‘success’ in education to require these two things: to start, and to keep going?  Life-long learning, after all, is a very worthy goal.

Written and photographed by Natasha Juliana. Cool ‘One Laptop Per Child’ in photo brought in by coWORKer Jeffrey Ventrella. Curious about Coffee Social?  Join us Tuesdays at 10 AM.