Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ A World of Learning Communities

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Aug 14, 2000

Posted to IETFS-Discussion
14 August, 2000

Michael De Nola wrote

"a world without schools -- a world of learning communities."
Sounds like hell to me. Sounds like right-wing extremists latching onto the internet to further erode what they consider to be "socialist" public education. Sorry, I don't buy it, but I suspect a lot of people will.

While it is true that there are pitfalls in the adoption of any new model of learning and of any new instructional technology, it does not follow that new models and new technologies are inherently right wing or capitalist in nature. They only seem that way because so many supporters of public education are reluctant to embrace new technologies. In my opinion, in their desire to promote the ideals of a public education system, they narrowly promote the methodologies of the current system. This approach should be rethought.

I am the last person to support a McDonalds-style system of public learning, a bland, commercialized product of corporate profit-mongering. I have in the past - and do again here - caution educators that they must demonstrate a social role for education, for it is only in this emphasis that the drive to turn education into a commodity will be halted. We need to show that more than just the bottom line matters. We need to show that education fulfills a social function, and therefore merits a public investment.

The role of education is technology-neutral. That is to say, if education has a social function, it will have one whether or not we use schools, textbooks, the world wide web, or online learning communities. Our choice of technology is made on the basis of pedogogical effectiveness. Our choice of funding model is based on the role of education.

Supporters of a public system should be prepared to embrace new technologies, therefore, if those technologies advance the social goals of education. In my opinion, customized and personalized online learning communities do satisfy those goals. Such environments foster the development of communities of interest in a wide variety of subject areas. Left to their own devices, corporations will build business and technology communities of interest; it is in the interest of society as a whole that we develop a more diversified, more healthy, range of communities.

By simply turning ones back on new technologies, and by simply dismissing them as corporate tools, supporters of public education abandon the field to those who believe the only goal in education is profit. It is the same sort of blindness which characterizes the AFT's recent stand against online learning (or the regional accreditation agencies, if the recent article in the Chronicle is to be believed). Such an approach is short-sighted and in the end ultimately futile. Those who abandon the field to the enemy usually find that the enemy has become the victor.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

Copyright 2024
Last Updated: Jul 19, 2024 5:33 p.m.

Canadian Flag Creative Commons License.