Assessing Web education – Digital learning called anti-democratic

As online courses multiply and software billionaire Mike Saylor prepares to build his $100 million Internet university, two scholars warn that online training programs do little more than train cheap labor for big businesses.

Online classrooms harden class differences by emphasizing training over critical thinking skills, say Teresa Ebert of the State University of New York at Albany and Mas’ud Zavarzadeh of Syracuse University.

The two English professors, in a guest opinion column in the Los Angeles Times, say that low-cost distance-learning programs allow isolated students to exchange content with equally isolated and overworked instructors.

But an education is more than a matter of content, the scholars say; it is a critical understanding of issues in a historical context.

Unlike an online classroom, a top-notch education includes rigorous encounters between students and teachers, dynamic critique and intense questioning of dominant assumptions and practices, the scholars say.

But instead of democratizing learning, they say, the Internet will continue to sharpen class lines by training cyber-students to have the necessary skills to function in the factories and electronic enterprises owned and managed by those educated in elite universities.

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