So close, yet so far

Isaac Asimov“Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time… Then, everyone would enjoy learning. Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you, and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different.” ~ Isaac Asimov, 1988

The ever-wise Isaac Asimov put these words forward in a 1988 interview with Bill Moyers. I have a computer outlet in my home that hooks up to enormous libraries which I use to educate myself at my own pace about whatever grabs my attention at the moment. I’m not alone. According to a U.S. government report, approximately 80% of American homes have at least one Internet user, 68% of homes use broadband access, and 77% of households had a computer. We have the tools for everyone to learn what they want, when they want, at their own pace. So why are schools still forcing everyone to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed? The number of online courses has exploded since the mid 1990s, but the majority of them are pretty much structured to run like a traditional course. The 2000s saw the development of wholly-online degree programs from reputable brick-and-mortar schools and universities. And the last couple of years have seen the advent of MOOCs, seemingly the kind of learning opportunity Asimov described. The traditional universities are jumping on the free and open learning bandwagon to appear competitive in the education marketplace, but only by tokens and these courses aren’t generally viewed as “serious” or “real”.

So here we are, nearly 25 years later. The majority of schools (and courses) today don’t look so different from those of 1988. We dangle the carrot of personalized learning only allowing little tastes, pulling the string further away. So close, yet so far.


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