Learning About NOT Learning

I am excited tonight to be starting two new summer courses for my M.Ed.  Excited, because I have seen the courses and they appear to be a huge improvement over the last course I took this past spring.

I just finished a course on International Leadership, which could have been and should have been inspiring and amazing.  Instead, it was outdated and embarrassing.  I am a very independent and motivated learner, but this course challenged my motivation like nothing else.

So, like any failure (failure in the sense that I did not learn – I did pass!), I ask what can we learn from this?  What, specifically, was wrong with the course?

1. The textbook was outdated.  Honestly, when I am paying an obscene amount of money for both the book and the online course, I deserve something updated at the very least.  Old textbooks might work for calculus, but educational theory evolves and changes.  Then, the instructor suggested the references in the text as a starting point for our research – citations that were often more than a decade old!

2. We had to blog.  I love to use a blog to share reflections and extend learning, but the instructor seemed to have no idea how blogs can be used to collaborate and enhance the learning experience.  Every blog assignment was “post your summary to your blog”.  Honestly?  You really want 30 summaries of the same chapter?

3. Discussions: One post and gone.  Students had to post one thing to the discussion.  Wow, how does that ever become a discussion when everyone posts their one piece and never comes back to read or comment?

4.  Dropouts.  Students stopped doing the course and did only the items that were being marked.  Collaboration fell flat.  I don’t blame them.  Without collaboration and useful feedback there was no point in sharing.

5. Feedback.  The prof panicked because nobody was participating (well, maybe 3 or 4 were) so he lavishly praised any student who did anything.  It became so ridiculous that the most mundane comment on a forum was being praised as a brilliant comment which erodes the credibility of the professor.

6.  Selling another course.  Much of the time the professor was trying to sell students on taking his next course offering.  Inappropriate.

Let’s just say I ‘get’ what some high school students are going through when they lose interest in going to a particular class.

The university needs to insist on updated materials and they need to ensure their instructors are brought up to speed on both online collaboration strategies and Web 2.0 tools.  Online learning can be a rich experience when the facilitator is skilled and engaged in their work and their students.

Now I know how NOT to deliver an online course in education.

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3 thoughts on “Learning About NOT Learning”

  1. It’s too bad that the professor didn’t have the chance to enjoy a true learning (and teaching) experience with you and the other students. The very topic of International Leadership sounds so ingriguing, I could imagine the feedback you would provide to the professor (if it had been requested), including suggestions to improve resources and activities. Imagine the joy of Skyping with each other or with leaders in other countries or at least hooking up on Twitter and having a hash tag chat?

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    1. Colleen, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Like you, learning excites me. I see potential everywhere. While this attitude can lead to disappointment (like I described above), I believe it is essential for those of us working in the education system. Teaching is more than a job for me, it is my life. I sometimes find it difficult when I encounter situations where learning should be the priority and somehow it isn’t.

      It makes me think long and hard about our at-risk students and their disengagement from learning. How do we change that? Why do people like us engage in learning so willingly and easily, yet others have almost no interest? Now that is a question I will continue to chase down, one student at a time.

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  2. Oh man, I feel like I’ve been hunting for the answer to that question too! Don’t you wish you could share that love & passion for learning with them somehow? If only I could communicate or express just how valuable it is to learn — not only obtaining the diploma but the classes & lessons along the way… And speaking of our at-risk students — how do we talk to them about where they are right now, and how they can *use* their education to free them from what holds them back?

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