• June 6th, 2020

Navigating the world I cannot dominate: to subscribe or unsubscribe?

Bruce Kasanoff is one of my admired writers. He has a lively column entitled “How to Get Anyone to Do (Almost) Anything You Want.”
   In one installment, however, he makes this laconic note: “You can’t persuade a 9-month toddler to water ski, so the first step is to do a reality check; whether the other person has enough knowledge, competence, and self-confidence to do what you wish.”
This observation reminds me of an ongoing concern, namely, the virtues and vices of competition. In particular, I am referring to the daily assault by invitations to online courses. They literally cover every subject under the sun.
   If you permit me, I wish to refer to the courses as ‘recipes.’ For the Merriam-Webster dictionary says the original use of the word recipe “was not in cooking instructions but in prescriptions, where it was used to preface a list of medicines to be combined.” Thus, I wish to show that today’s web-based learning has prescriptions for every need in life. It promises new hope in place of setbacks, mistakes and missed opportunities.
   Yet even as we celebrate the growth and reach of online instruction, there is no doubt that some prescriptions need revision and restructuring. After all, online courses promise to respond to needs.
Central to the success of a recipe is the non-negotiable requirement to follow instructions. Where the instructions mislead, we get a situation such as the one Tess Rafferty briefly describes in her book, “Recipes for a Disaster: A Memoir.”
   “…the Thanksgiving turkey that never quite finishes cooking; the polenta (cornmeal) which unceremoniously goes runny and guests who arrive a day early.” It is the ultimate in disaster!
Some course providers do their homework; they know their audiences. Others seek to take advantage of the “9-month old toddler.” I agree with Brett Shockley when he says that, “as top-quality knowledge becomes the world’s most precious resource, hoarding it in towers of ivory or behind gilded gates for a privileged elite is a disastrously self-defeating mistake.”
   Not surprisingly, elite institutions of learning have also taken their places in the new frontiers of dispensing knowledge and training. And Tom Lindsay rightly celebrates “the anytime, anywhere nature of online instruction (which) allows maximum student readiness to learn as opposed to fixed-time-and-place classroom formats.”  However, the danger arises when online education becomes a monologue instead of a dialogue. The cardinal sin of “generic emailing!” I am still recovering from a warm yet sadly misdirected invitation. 
   “It’s (so and so) and we are sooo excited to feel the energy building in anticipation of tomorrow’s ‘Attract Your Soulmate’ event. Over 80,000 new women have signed for an hour in our feminine power virtual temple of love. In tomorrow’s content-rich seminar we’re going to reveal the very surprising reasons conscious women struggle in their relationships.”
Further evidence of inadequate research is found in the self-praise: “This is really the last time I plan to offer this particular training live, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll catch up some other time.”
My gripe is consequently focused on course providers who clearly overlook the essential quality of “immersive and interactive engagement” with audiences. The result of this oversight is an incorrect recipe or prescription. 
   In turn, the wrong recipe leaves one in a difficult situation: “If you wanted to find water, and you had a map and a shovel, where would you dig? Wherever the map says the water is, right? But…what if the map is wrong? Maybe it’s out dated…maybe you got the map from someone who just plain invented the details.”
We need online education; it is here to stay. Ideally, it responds to the identified needs of individuals, the public, students, voters and other interest groups. Moreover, some experts argue that classroom learning and web-based learning do not have to produce significant outcomes. 
   But Kasanoff has this exhortation: “While I could get anyone to do anything he or she wanted, it is important to ensure that the offering isn’t a Machiavellian tool for manipulating people or causing them harm. You can’t turn employees into mindless robots, and you can’t persuade a person to buy into a scam.”
Shockley praises web-based learning that aspires to “spreading knowledge via engaging, compelling interactive technology (that) will ennoble humanity and help the best thinkers and teachers fulfil their destinies on geographic and numerical scales few ever imagined.”   

Staff Reporter
2019-07-12 09:32:07 | 10 months ago

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