Sir Ken Robinson's famous quote runs, "creativity is now as important in education as literacy" (Robinson, 2006). It is our duty as to take his words seriously and reconsider all the different possibilities that might help us tame the educational crisis, which is currently rather serious, indeed. The US system of education is facing multiple challenges connected with the population explosion, economic problems, rapid development of technology, etc. Among them the rising cost of tuition occupies the foremost place. Some citizens have to go on paying out their student loans even after their own children have gone to college (Selingo, 2013, p. 50-52). For me, studying has always been a creative act which involves making choices, thinking critically, generating new ideas. So, why not approach the whole of the educational paradigm creatively too? If the question is what form of education to choose - distance education or traditional education, my answer is - both. Distance education, more accessible and cost-effective, can make use of the benefits of the face-to-face classroom communication. Through combining the achievements of the two leading educational paradigms - the traditional one and the digital one (massive open online courses, or MOOCs) blended education can provide high-quality yet low-cost training to students with all kinds of social backgrounds.
The most important aspect of the current educational crisis to consider is the financial one. The quickly and steadily rising cost of the tuition has already become proverbial. Apart from that, the traditional system of education requires a student not only to pay his tuition and course fees, but also to cover the costs of accommodation, books, travel, etc. Online education spares students these additional expenses. With MOOCs you can learn from home without having to travel and live on campus premises. You can also print out all the necessary study materials, without having to buy them. In addition, in your hometown it easier to find some supporting job. Thus, distance education offers all young Americans an exceptional opportunity to study at the best universities of the country.
Another important aspect to consider is accessibility. Distance education provides digital materials that can be used by any number of students for an unlimited time period. Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, a joint online education project of MIT and Harvard, in his inspiring TED-talk "Why massive open online courses (still) matter" (2013) speaks about self-pacing as an essential feature of MOOCs underlining the accessibility and flexibility of studying on-line. As lectures can be paused and rewound, materials downloaded to be read later and tests taken at any convenient time, distance learning is an ideal study format for those who work, have special health conditions, take care of small children or the elderly, struggle with the material, are non-native English speakers, etc. These features make education accessible for students coming from any social background - they get an amazing opportunity to listen to the lectures of the celebrated scholars while studying at their own pace.
Heretofore we have considered only the benefits of the distance learning, but the more controversial questions connected with the format of communication between the teacher and the student need answering too. The traditional educational system is built around face-to-face interaction which has its obvious advantages, including the stimulating effect of the classroom dialogue and the professor's charismatic personality. At the same time, it also creates a fruitful environment for subjective evaluation. Labeling can seriously damage the students' self-esteem and consequently learning motivation. Nell Keddie's research shows that the teacher's expectations precondition the choice of the tasks given to the students (as cited in Haralambos & Holborn, 2000, p. 848). Distance learning decreases the risks of subjectivity, but it also lacks the inspiring warmth of the on-site interpersonal communication. A blended course with a carefully weighted balance of the face-to-face time and distance learning can help achieve the optimum educational effect.
Of course, there is also the social facet of education which should not be left out. The learning space, the community, the interaction with fellow students are infinitely important for the formation of the students' soft skills and their future ability to fit in effectively in the new working environment. In the traditional educational institutions, students work together and actively participate in different social activities. In her insightful TED-talk, Liz Coleman describes the main task of college education as equipping students with the "flexibilities of mind, the multiplicity of perspectives, the capacities for collaboration and innovation" (Coleman, 2009). Obviously, these educational aims are easier to achieve in the vibrant atmosphere of a multicultural campus which actively promotes pro-social behavior. Distance learning does not provide this kind of social stimuli. The on-line community of MOOCs is usually united rather by the current study interests than any kind of social initiatives. But blended courses, which offer their students an opportunity to attend on-site study sessions and social events, can help solve the problem, at least partially.
It is education that teaches us to think differently and approach everything creatively. Now I am offering you to approach the education itself creatively by re-thinking it critically, challenging and questioning the stereotypes, putting different paradigms in dialogue with each other and also becoming yourself a part of the bigger dialogue - becoming pro-active and pro-creative. Education is still a game-changing strategy in the modern world, but only when approached in a creative, critical and active way - through blended learning.
Agarwal, A. (2013, June). Why massive open online courses (Still) matter. Retrieved June 2, 2018, from www.ted.com/talks/anant_agarwal_why_massively_open_online_courses _still_matter/transcript?language=en#t-527882.
Coleman, L. (2009, February). A call to reinvent liberal arts education. Retrieved June 2, 2018, from www.ted.com/talks/liz_coleman_s_call_to_reinvent_liberal_arts_education /transcript?language=en
Haralambos, M., & Holborn, M. (2000). Sociology: Themes and perspectives. London: Collins.
Robinson, K. (2006, February). Do schools kill creativity? Retrieved June 2, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity
Selingo, J. J. (2013). College (un)bound: The future of higher education and what it means for students. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
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