Learning online

It is indeed great days for learners, especially for those who are self-directed, auto-didactic as they are apparently called. With the explosion of those delectable tablets made by that company Lieutenant Dan invested in and the claim that many other products are what evoulutionary biologists would call Batesian mimics, the access and availability to information has multiplied much more than one can manage. In the 3 hours per day that I often spend in my car, Maher pokes fun on hypocrisy of hyper-religious groups in celebrating the killing of an enemy proscribed by ‘the book’ even as I take longer detours around Cubbon Park so that the super-slow Bangalore Metro construction lazily centimetres ahead. While I have coffee, I can load my daily dose of caseblog’s latest take on social media in medicine and Myers‘ or Katti’s daily trysts with creationists and bad science onto Instapaper so that I can read while I lie down in the evening after a long day at home. On other days while I wait in Gubbi or in Pavagada for interviews in course of my work, I can complete my daily module of Empirical Research Methods course offered on Carnegie Mellon’s OLI. Several such open courses offered online and free by leading universities means that the limiting factor for learning is merely curiousity! Further narrowing the tendency of knowledge to concentrate among a few are wikipedia, medpedia and several citizen science initiatives that aggregate and help make sense of information generated by individuals. As the Guardian proclaims as well as shows, “comments are free but facts are sacred“. One one hand is migrantwatch that tries to unravel the mystery of pied cuckoo’s residency or migratoriness, on another site is Anush’s three pence on the freely shared malaria data. Elsewhere somebody is putting up free illustrations of birds and somebody else is sharing photographs of some rare birds of which perhaps are only a few hundreds remain and only a few hundred people in the world have perhaps even seen, yet freely available for all on the commons. Even as a twittering wildlife photographer traces his wild journeys through the hinterland of the blazing hot central Indian tiger reserves, another one vividly describes his encounters with the snow leopard. In other corners of the internet, a scientist on one hand and a bereaved father on the other lament State apathy. This is merely a sample of any day’s syndication through flipboard and their ilk onto the few digital hours of my life before and after my work!

The internet is still quite a luxury for more than 90 percent of India and that day when right to bandwidth joins the yet unrealised rights for education and health in our country may be still far. Yet, for those who do have such extensions to their phenotypes, the glut of information (most of it quite poor and others patently false) can be quite disabling. And even as I celebrate the huge amount of information that I have access to and every day, I ask myself how much worse off would I have been without all this.

Autodidacticism, or self-directed learning has been described much before the onset of the internet of course. Malcom Shepard Knowles seems to be  a new age pioneer of this learning method with the roots of such learning going back to 12th century middle-east (See Ibn Tufail). The number of open courseware available and the high quality of the courses are overwhelming. My dream of pursuing logic as a course (as opposed to wasting time quoting logic in losing arguments!) is today possible with OLI. Leading universities now offer their material online, not merely as a dump of lectures, but as courses with clear learning objectives and the use of high quality teaching and learning material – Yale and MIT merely an example of many more. Other wonderful lectures are freely downloadable through ItunesU such as Michael Sandel’s wonderful lectures on ethics.

Such apps, software and portals have merely facilitated a chaotic access to the autodidact(!). However, I often hear an argument that all of this information is quite wasteful and has not amounted to anything. That all of this amounts merely to noise. In contrast to this, for me,  the way we use technology to manage the information is going to determine how we make sense of the internet. And choosing the right software or app is not merely a matter of being fascinated by the interface or its presentation, but to see how well we adapt it into our lifestyle. Else, we will merely spend most of our mouse-clicks hitting like and retweeting bunkum.

(As you must’ve noticed, this was a very ‘linky’ post, in keeping with the theme. The post would have to be much more lengthy if not for this ‘linkiness’.)


4 responses to “Learning online”

  1. Sridhar Avatar

    Nice piece, daktre. Thanks for the auto-didact tips …

    1. Ah…from one ad to another!

  2. Very nice one..

  3. […] days of online learning continue. In May last year, I had blogged about learning online, especially about how a self-learner (an autodidact it seems) has amazing […]

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