Distance Learning #1

Posted on Nov 19, 2009

I had promised in a previous post that I would attend to purging my (negative) mania over Distance Learning. I had been ruminating for the past couple days over where to begin, and what follows are thoughts – not academically supported hypotheses. I understand that I should be reading up on the research first, but I feel so unencumbered by what has already been discovered that, for moment, I prefer to think freely.

First, I had just come to realize that I had gone through a similarly traumatic transformation of opinion about a different subject: quality control in video post-production. Simply put, some 15+ years ago, it had been drilled into me by a certain ogreish former employer that failure to produce absolute perfection in a final master videotape (from which thousands of copies would be made, to be broadcast on TV to millions) would be tantamount to destroying his reputation and putting the company out of business. And this was no small operation either – 6 floors, 15+ editors and engineers, millions of dollars invested in infrastructure and equipment. My boss was correct in instilling a high standard of performance, though his methods often brought grown-ups to tears.

Add to that having been raised by a pair of parents who were adamant about high standards for work ethic, and having a personal determination of my own to “never go back” to living sub-standard. The logical outcome of all of this is that I expect to get my money’s worth for my tuition (or whatever the agreement is), and I always expect to engage in a high quality learning experience. And then when it’s all over, I expect that the labor market will grill the heck out of me with the same sink-or-swim corporate culture as I had endured before. These are all good things.

Dissolve to the present (that’s a video transition term meaning, “OK, back to today…”), and I am feeling almost a sense of PANIC about having to be involved in another online class. Why is this?

It’s probably a combination of a few things:

  • I require a verbal conversation to negotiate how a concept is constructed – be it a script or storyboard, a learning module, a relationship, a procedure.
  • This conversation is fundamentally one where lots of information is gathered and reorganized at once, then re-verbalized in a form that makes sense to me. This serves two purposes: 1) as an aid to myself; 2) as a way to account for some people’s limited abilities to express themselves clearly, with appropriate structure, language, and insight.
  • The end result is formed in my mind as a basis for preventing being vulnerable in a situation where I would be accountable to the knowledge. Sometimes this a very low form, such as cooking rice the way my daughter likes it, to something where I could lose my job and my family would starve (or something typically overly-apocalyptic in my insomniacal tremors – do we not all have them?).
  • I have experienced a variety of situations where “the people who know the knowledge” have some kind of inhibitory or hostile issue with sharing their knowledge to those who need the knowledge. This includes, but is not limited to, self-interest, elitism, fear of being replaced by the student, fear of being revealed as ill-prepared to teach, fear of being discovered that they don’t really know as much about the subject as they should, and fear that it will be discovered that they are really not all that interested in teaching the student and would rather be out making lots of money instead.

From this perspective, anything less than an optimal learning experience, to me, means that I am not actually learning as much as I could or should be, which in turn means that I will emerge from this program with less of the kind of insight into my chosen discipline than I should. Given my personal obligations and experiences, this a terrible risk!

There is a gap between primal learning and distance learning that brings about bad feelings for me. And I feel resentful if anyone suggests that the solution to closing this gap is to capitulate to it as though DL is an inevitability, or that we should learn about it as Instructional Designers by victimizing ourselves by it!

I disagree with Andy Warhol that the best way to convey boredom in a film is to bore the viewer to death.

Well, let’s put it this way, I understand what Warhol is accomplishing as an artist, but I do not see it being adopted by the film community as a convention.

More to come.

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