Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i Articles i Comments i Comments 2002 i Book in review: Life and learning on the Net

Book in review: Life and learning on the Net

| Text: Karin Sveen, Norwegian authour

Distance learning via the Internet is an area fraught with high expectations.

There is the desire, firstly, to democratise the right to knowledge, irrespective of the geographical location and financial status of the individual learner. 

Secondly, there is the necessity of coping with the educational needs of the twentyfirst century.

Thirdly, there is the anticipation of doing away with over-full classrooms and restricted admissions to universities and other institutes of higher education. Distance education makes it possible for students to remain wherever they live and be taught by excellent teachers from all over the world.

In his new book, Hubert Dreyfus raises wellfounded questions about whether the World Wide Web might not, in the long run, make for a new, education-level based class distinction. 

Privileged students would still be able to travel to the best educational facilities and have the advantage of personal contact with outstanding teachers and of fellow students, while many others would have no option except to study in isolation via distance learning. Dreyfus also takes up in detail the differences between traditional education and Netbased learning. He reminds us that the Internet is an information tool and not a teaching method, that teaching is more than the simple transport of information, and learning is more than information consumption. 

Learning is a gradual process that takes time and requires face-to-face contact between teacher and student. Moreover, learning and teaching have always been projects intimately intertwined with culture and civilization. Learners are intended to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to become participatory citizens, active in various fields. 

In this respect, the Net has its shortcomings, in Dreyfus’ view, for the very reason that neither society nor our cultural authorities have endowed it with a mission. Furthermore, what the Net does, is to replace presence with telepresence, a distinction to which Dreyfus attaches great importance, because both learning and life require engagement and risk-taking in a trial by error process.The Net, however, is an anonymous zone, in principle risk free, in contrast to the risk-filled nature of the real world. Our actions in the real world always put us at jeopardy, and require us to take a stand. 

Dreyfus details the “skill model” of learning, indicating how both practical and theoretical education are stepwise processes in which the learner progresses gradually from novice to master. 

The learning process requires us to develop the ability to handle our errors.This, in itself, helps the learner move from one step to the next. It is a process in which neither teacher nor learner can remain anonymous.We are personally present and liable for our own behaviour. But when we log on in cyberspace, we exchange our personal identities for passwords.

This, to Dreyfus, is a critical factor. Physical presence is, in his view, a prerequisite for both life and learning, and we can never get away from this fact, either in the process of acquiring the most abstract notions or learning the most concrete practical tasks. 

And still the Net has its fascination – why is this? Primarily because it stimulates our curiosity, although in a way that means we become preoccupied with categorizing phenomena as either “interesting” or “boring”. Similarly, our ability to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant is impaired, for the simple reason that the amount of information the World Wide Web offers frequently means that quality aspects are levelled.We surf, but never dive deep enough in any single area to have to commit. In Dreyfus’ view, the overarching effect of the Internet is to undermine commitment and involvement.

This readily makes it a pillow for our somniferous education systems, with their major problems in terms of capacity and levels, in terms of both research and teaching capacity.


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment