Ten years ago, in 2002, I was working as a senior curriculum designer at a nonprofit company based in Washington, DC. The company sold whole school reform, writing and reading curriculum reform, and more. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d had a choice to make when I took the job in 2000, education/curriculum design for that company or knowledge manager for a company with offices in San Francisco, NYC, London, and Singapore.
Writing that now, I feel a sting. London and Singapore. Sigh. Did I make the right choice?
Of course, I did. In the intervening years, I never really left education and have been exposed to a whole lot of educational technology, and in that stream, learned so much about writing, editing, design, training, publishing, teaching, and mindfulness. I learned to breathe deep and make peace a path I travel rather than a goal I seek. I also learned when an opportunity was smacking me across the face and when I needed to make something happen or find the calm to let it pass me by. Living with regrets is no way to go through life: “shoulda, coulda, woulda” fundamentally sucks whether it underlies a general philosophy of pessimism (which I eschew) or whether it’s something I mutter under my breath again and again in a heinous fog of self-recrimination and despair (which I try to, also, avoid).
2012. Here I am then, about to undergo an unusual learning experience for me: a MOOC. And it’s all because of my need to learn, but it’s also possible because of the webinet, the interweb, whatever you want to name it–you could call it “the cybersphere of freedom for learning all one could desire” for all I care–just as long as it exists.
Okay, a MOOC is not totally weird for me, as I love to learn and once enrolled in a mythology class at a community college when I was getting my master’s degree because I needed more knowledge about myths than I had (no room or time in my schedule for a grad class on mythology–and it’s likely one wasn’t offered).
I bet it was called Mythology 101. It was a semi-correspondence course (I took this course over twenty years ago, but it’s pertinent for my overall discussion and rambling). Here are some of the numbers:
- one professor
- one PBS broadcast of The Power of Myth (Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell)
- one mid-term (at the school or with a proctor)
- one final exam (same)
- one paper (snail mailed to the professor–and mailed back with comments and a grade)
- 300 students
- four books
- additional readings as desired
- one year
- one initial meeting
Unlike what I imagine a lot of students felt who took that class, I loved it, and I learned a lot despite seeing the prof only a few times and never really talking with him nor ever hearing him say much (he did distribute extensive study/learning directions and a reading schedule with assignments–truly, the class was something like a hybrid correspondence course). I enjoyed the freedom of having my own schedule and the direction of an expert while I learned, even though it was one-direction only.
Still the best, after all these years.
I read what was assigned and much more. But then I was truly motivated. I purposely connected with a couple of students who I talked to pretty regularly (by phone–this was 1991 after all–I only had a land line phone and a computer that was something like a glorified typewriter). I got an A. Of course, I was going to get an A. I decided I would do anything and everything to learn, though; the A would only be a symbol of my learning. I still can’t believe I did that. I was taking a grad class or two, working full-time, and had a long-distance relationship in full swing (oh, and my mother was dying from four different kinds of cancer–that was part of everything, every minute, every day–all the time). What was I thinking?
I was thinking: “There is no way I can have had any directed learning any other way than this one–so it’s this or nothing.” I had a year to complete all the work, take the tests, and get credit. PBS would air The Power of Myth twice in that time so I could catch it as I needed to, plus the local access cable would air it again for the class. I did it in a semester, but still, it was so low pressure. I could handle it and I did.
I would have done it without the credit, frankly; it didn’t matter to my degree. What mattered was the knowledge.
Regarding the MOOC I’m going to take this January, it’s about the knowledge. I couldn’t get this directed learning about e-learning and digital cultures any other way than this one. I have a busy life. (More complicated now if you can believe it–OMG–I’m saying: when does it get smooth? When does life get smooth!? Why doesn’t anything ever go smooth?) Who doesn’t have a complex and busy life? I can’t find time to take a full semester course right now, so I had to find other options (which exist! yea!), but more than that, I love the possibility of connections I’ll make (I’m already making). I loved talking to the two students in the myth class through that term, but think if I’d been able to meet up, virtually, with thirty out of the 300–what more might I have learned or discovered because of the learning we did with one another.
In the last ten years, the course I took in the early 1990s (if it still exists) would have mutated in wonderful ways, I expect, to become something like a MOOC, perhaps not “massive” and perhaps not “open,” but it was on a similar road–helping students learn who couldn’t otherwise, encouraging connections between students who could make those connections (locally, over the phone, I might have even exchanged letters with one of the students!). The Web 2.0, 3.0, 17.0, or whatever version we’re dealing with now, has changed everything. We are different learners than we were, and it’s a great movement forward.
But what the Web hasn’t changed is the need for humans to learn, to connect, to intellectually evolve. It’s allowed more of that to happen. It’s allowing human flourishing in ways we could have never imagined before. I’m so hip to that, because if we can’t get to the learning space, the learning space can now get to us. I’m in love. Truly, madly, deeply.
The MOOC has already allowed me (before it starts) to think about what I’m thinking, what I’m doing now, what I want to learn, and how I want to learn it. The internet has allowed me to be involved in learning in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of before this Information Age revolution, unless I’d been allowed to actually live in the Library of Congress.
Thank you, world of coding geeks and prolific web users, for growing the internet in the last ten years. I hope the next ten are as glorious for education. May we all keep learning; may our learning bring us all closer together.
All that is what I’m thinking, ten years after, twenty years after, right now.