Kierkegaard and the MOOCs

School is nearly out for the year, and so most teachers, like myself, are thinking ahead to the summer and to the distant days of fall. One of the things we’re always doing is fiddling with how we teach. What’s the best way to teach someone? How can we “do” learning effectively? And what’s the goal of education, anyhow?

So it was with interest that I read Brett Beasley’s article in The Curator about what the nineteenth-century Christian existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard would have said about MOOCs (massive open online courses), a hot subject in the academy right now – and something that anyone who cares about how we learn should think about.

Today’s nearly instant communication and vast stores of online information make the technology of Kierkegaard’s age look primitive. We are more fast-paced, more analysis-driven and more practically minded in our education than any society early 19th century Denmark could have imagined. We pride ourselves on outsourcing thinking to software and memory to “the cloud.”  Perhaps most tellingly, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are quickly becoming the new paradigm for “progressive” education. MOOCs are enormous—courses reach tens of thousands of students at a time. Widely available and often at very low cost, MOOCS involve a minimal commitment from students, making it easier than ever to confuse a wealth of information with total education or upbringing that Kierkegaard reminds us to strive for.

One of the reasons that this is so important is that it confronts questions not just about teaching techniques, but about the nature of the human soul and mind. How did God made us, and how does that shape how we teach and learn?

(A good read on this topic is James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom – or you can start with the interview I posted last week.)


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