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Online Education Communities

Hopefully they're not the wave of the future.

I tried to complete a book during the National Novel Writing Month this November. I thought the pressure from an online community would help me put my butt in a chair and my words on the page.

I was sorely mistaken. I didn’t feel like I owed anyone in this fictive "community", and I certainly didn’t feel pressure to finish anything.

I have mixed feelings about online communities in general. I’m aware that they are constantly shifting and evolving, but the myth that they can ever replace human interaction seems sad and terrifying. Additionally, these communities seem as though they give people more of an excuse to feel that they are entitled to be “too busy.” On the other hand, they are certainly better than nothing.

I had a counselor who felt that online learning communities were the wave of the future. According to her, universities and other educational institutions will entirely cease to exist in the way that we know them.

Any kind of learning community worth its salt should only use Internet technology as a supplementary addition to face-to-face communication. I have taken several online classes, and they offer nowhere near the kind of camaraderie or learning opportunities available to peers who are reading and studying the same material in a live classroom. Discussion cannot be as interactive, passions and interests can not be as well conceived, the energy simply cannot be replicated.

The shift to online education is certainly not complete, but the idea that people are “too busy” to travel to an actual classroom is preposterous to me. Whipping out cell phones when your plane first touches down is not a necessity, it is a learned condition. Constant Internet connections, Blackberries, iPhones, these are not a necessity for the fast pace of life; they are creating and speeding up the necessary rate of life. Most people can make it to a live class, but it is easier to learn online.

Education needs time. It needs commitment. Online classes that are supplementary to everything else in a person’s life should not be the first place to look in education, they should be the last. Kids, a house, a job, a mortgage? Then online education can be considered.

But college students who are too lazy to put on clothes and sit in a lecture hall in favor of streaming the lecture in their dorm rooms? Pathetic. This should not be the quid pro quo for education if America doesn’t want to keep embarrassing itself with its anti-intellectual bent. Education cannot continue to be supplementary to life in our country; rather, it should be structured as an essential component of life itself.