Mario Marino and team have released a deeply researched, and balanced, report on the state of e-learning. The report respects the human dimension of teaching, training, educating, inspiring students at various ages and stages, with sundry quirks and learning disabilities, with and without a good prior grounding. The tone of the report is optimistic, but with a mature sense of the challenges. As one who does e-learning now for a living, I can say that you can teach at a high level online, for people you never meet, and they can meet up locally to discuss, and the difference it makes in their professional or personal lives can be profound, but certifying their achievement ("assessment") is a real challenge. Objective testing in a testing center verifies the learner's identity and ties out to a score that might be considered statistically valid, certifying a "competency." But this is like assessing a child's understanding of the Gospels by having him or her recite the Catechism. For forward thinking educators and educational institutions, the language of competencies may be better than the old language of "Carnegie hours," or hours of certified seat time. But competencies will rile the likes of Diane Ravitch who still believes that consumers, employees, managers, owners, supervisors, and even venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are citizens and human souls with a mind worth saving from competency based metrics. Huck Finn not Aunt Sally is the ideal.
On my Huck makes good against all odds list, I have Mario Marino. And helping the next wave of Marios make their own way via e-learning is an important goal. I wonder what Mario might have become had he had priviliged access to a broader liberal arts education. I also wonder if such an education is now the perogative of only an elite who can afford the face time in a safe setting with one who channels the great books, and serves as an ego-ideal for the learner who is a kind of disciple or apprentice, and whose life thereafter is ever-altered by the tradition into which he or she has been introduced first hand. I would hate to think that those slated to be leaders get the good stuff and those born to serve get competencies certifying them as useful tools. The few who then rise to positions of power then reproduce with great enthusiasm that kind competency-based education because they were themselves the product of it. At that point, with Huck, I am lighting out for the country.