I remember when I was an undergraduate, I asked if I would be able to sit in on other classes in sociology or philosophy, to which I was asked by certain lecturers and administrators: why would you want to do that? it would only be more work for you and you won’t get the credit! What a failed presumption that is: one would only sit in on a course if they could get credit and move ahead? This is the instrumental idea of education-as-technical qualification that is slowly eroding the understood importance of the humanities. Disciplines that are not technical should not be learned it seems, or perhaps even still in this assumption: disciplines that are not technical are not interesting unless I fill up my course credit.
This technical/instrumental ideal is unfortunate. I did come across others who were interested in the pure value of learning while at university. I used to hear stories of a certain lecturer in the philosophy of physics sitting in on courses in Number Theory and Axiomatic Set Theory, studiously taking notes and not taking attention to himself, except for maybe the fact that he was the most popular professors in another department and was visibly known as such. I sometimes wonder if Immanuel Kant, during his Privatdozent days or when he became tenured, would be seen as that eccentric older man sitting in on lectures in natural philosophy, Law, Theology or even Medicine. The appeal of learning should be of an intrinsic value. Ideal learning is the kind that sticks.
Its with this mindset that I’ve discovered what is called the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. I have mostly been using Coursera to undertake courses. I have been involved in differing degrees with the courses. Some I had lost interest pretty quickly after it was going a bit too slow and spuriously (for instance, the songwriting course), others I follow on a more casual basis such as Music Production. I intend to follow the courses on logic (Intro logic, introduction to mathematical philosophy, introduction to mathematical thinking) with a little bit more atention.
What appeals to me about MOOCs? At the moment I’m not too fussed about credit or accreditation, although if there came a coding course or something on SPSS I might be interested in getting a proper accreditation or recognised acknowledgment that I’ve learned it properly (for CV boosting purposes). The MOOC appeals to me in a way that says you shouldn’t be limited in your curiosity. As long as you are willing to put in the time and the effort, which I must admit isn’t something everyone wants to do or can do, or something many realise requires an effort or sacrifice; curiosity should have no barrier.
I am interested in music production because I was trained in acoustic instruments, and where dynamics and timbre were affected by physical conditions. Pure curiosity should be encouraged, it is a dimension of what makes human creativity special. There’s an openness to the MOOC, that location, background or other accessibility concerns do not hinder one’s ability to learn. I’d be very interested to see what the future of the MOOC holds, not least because of the learning potential of open access learning materials. I wonder also what a generation of people who have learned from MOOCs to accelerate their own learning might look like. Time will tell