Friday Musings #4

“I don’t need college, I’ve got YouTube,” said a friend’s daughter recently. I laughed, half agreeing and half reminiscing. Wtih Carnegie Mellon’s recent announcement of its AI degree program, the first in the United States and the world of online learning (MOOC or Massive Open Online Courses) offerings, I got to thinking.  As a lifelong learner myself, I use Google a lot to learn new things, have begun downloading videos and online courses to keep up not only with trends for my day-to-day work as blogger and copywriter, but also to improve myself and my services. From the mouths of babes to the mouths of the unenlightened, I vascillate between shock, horror, and the need to teach whatever I’ve learned striving to bring them into my world.

Online Vs. Traditional Education

But, I dive deep. Google alerts, weekly posts for a client, and the desire to always know more keep me up at nights and reading all the time. The YouTube comment I’d so recently laughed about made an about face as I found myself watching a video on Technical Writing, Hubspot Academy, and an online course in how to grow my freelance business through Upwork. Add to that the available courses on Alison, Coursera, and Udemy to name a few and the world really is my oyster. I can follow degree programs, get certifications, and interview industry experts all from my home office. Is it strange I’m talking about education as everyone else gets ready for summer? Probably. But, then again, I was the kid who read the Summer Reading List every year. But, this brings me back to the world of brick and mortar vs online.

Consider this: online learning offers a global learning community, in some instances immediate access to glean new knowledge, downloadable worksheets, tables, and sources and resources for review, and is often much, much cheaper than traditional institutions.

Traditional institutions are often top heavy, expensive, branded, and while there are plenty of amenities, somehow are often less focused on the student than other offerings. Yet, as I write this, I also believer there is a place for both. Traditional insitutions offer labs and the opportunity for practical application. For example, Carnegie Mellon, the birthplace of artificial intelligence (AI) in the 1950s, just announced its AI Degree Program, the first of its kind in the United States. And it’s not limited to just college undergrads, it’s also offering pre-college programs to junior and senior high school students who show an interest in computer science.

Interestingly, some of the people I talk to remain ludites, aren’t interested in digital (though its integral to their lives whether they realize it or not), don’t understand it, or my favorite quote from just last night, “computers are going to be big.” Really? Where have you been for the last 30 years! Not going to be. Are. The future is here.

Rise of the Independent Shop

Though I have embraced the digital world and I know what it does and can do, the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’m still on the lookout for an old typewriter (Underwood or Royal), I want the clear “ping” of the keys being pushed and the ring of the return bar. Just once, I want to type a story or novel on a classic typewriter, tie it up in twine, and snail mail it to a publisher or literary agent. I want the feel of the paper in my hands, the smell of ink in my nose, and the sensory perceptions of a tangible product. I still prefer tangible books, the scent of the pages, the ethos of the author, the touch of the cover, the gentle stretch of the spine.

The living, breathing life of a book draws us into libraries and bookstores all over the world. Last month’s trip to Hobart Book Village in Hobart, New York was a fantasy weekend for this bookworm. If you’re not familiar, Hobart Book Village in upstate New York has a population of about 400, yet five independent bookstores fill its Main Street.

Then, an article about the rise of independent bookstores gave me hope and a prediction begun with the return of vinyl came to me. We talk these days about humans and robots working together, but there’s another type of coexistence I think has its place in today’s world – independent book and music stores, no chains, just simple stores that have both a storefront and an online presence.

So what’s your take? Indie vs big box stores. Online vs. traditional education. Have you taken a course with any of the online open courseware software? What was your experience?