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Ask HN: What is the flaw of online education?
15 points by ai_ia 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments
I am trying to build a website that makes online self studying much easier. Nowadays there are a lot of resources available online of varying difficulty level. You have coursera, edx, OCW, online Video Lectures, access to Sci-Hub.

My question is what are the necessary flaws in the online education that is preventing a rather large number of people to learn stuff on their own and understand the field they are deeply interested.




Motivation. There's something about being in a traditional educational setting - even one like a university where your level of presence and attention is up to you - that makes it easier to concentrate and to prioritize your studies over the other things you could be doing with your time.

I think part of that is simply being surrounded socially by other people who are there primarily for the purpose of learning.

That's very difficult for any online course to replicate, because as soon as you turn away from the computer you're out of the academic setting.

For me at least, that's the primary reason I've never been able to finish an online course.


That "something" is that the vast majority of people need to be given structure by someone else. In the vast majority of cases, if you leave someone to do something by themselves for which there isn't a clear, short term benefit, that person will do nothing.


But online courses do provide structure. And universities don't provide a ton of it (some more than others). It's up to the student whether to attend class at all, and whether and when to study - just as it is with an online class. The difference is the setting.


When I say "structure" in this context, I mean it to include a social and hierarchical structure as well - namely, others doing the same thing alongside you, and someone you have to report to. Without those things, most people don't have the discipline and/or interest to do much of anything.

What a university provides is worlds more than self paced or automated online classes, or even online classes where all interaction with others is text.


I'm not sure it's just structure, though. I think there's an aspect of social pressure, for instance.


I agree. Universities give clear structure and a sense of accomplishment when completing something. The structure part is really essential.


Wow this is the problem with me. You simplify it. So my next question is how to tackle this when there is no short term benefit? How you get motivate yourself?


Learn discipline. Nobody stops you from self-study but you.

If you can't do that, sign up at a university.


Not sure why this is being downvoted. Maybe it came off as harsh? Pushing yourself to continue studying when you've lost the motivation would certainly require discipline though.

I've considered signing up for classes before but instead I find coworkers or friends interested in the same subjects as me and we do online courses together. Groups are a helpful tool to keep you (and others) moving forward for sure.


From a pessimist point of view, the internet and consumer culture as a whole is detrimental to learning, because it facilitates passivity via spoon fed solutions, which is a disincentive to independence and autonomous research. On the upside, that's supposed to speed up learning to become feasibly independent to be meaningfully creative.

One flaw is the lack of personal, emphatic guidance - socialization. Forums are supposed to replace the socialization instructor and community feedback, but only on voluntary purpose. Learning is not easy, so instructions on how to approach the curriculum is certainly necessary. The top courses that I saw start out with that, but from my POV the main part of the message is that a lot of work is expected, without play. Learning is rarely a self-purpose and a goal years in the future is hardly motivating. Curses pretty quickly prove to take a long and sometimes boring path. Education is a process between two parties, so I'd say a huge number of people prevented from learning are in their own way, not bringing the prerequisite ambition to invest the time for what it's worth. Of course that's just an argument open for recourse. Mediation is a large part of learning, so a broad overview and thorough approach to the material might be worthwhile, highlighting the possibilities and the need to explore and play outside of the courses.

The information overflow of the information age also brings a second problem, getting lost in it. I don't know what you are planning for, but focus on few select resources (courses and other open materials) and therefore much more thorough guidance might facilitate the endeavor.

What have you thought about, specifically? Some online courses are developed as rather autonomous resources, the question would be, how those can be supplemented. If commentary is the only added value, a blog might suffice.


I've been doing a lot of self-study online, and two things jump to mind:

1) There should be many more interactive exercises during and after instruction, and not just multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank. There's a lot of potential for automated interaction that courses simply don't take advantage of, probably because it's time intensive for each course to do.

Khan is perhaps the best at this, but they still don't have as much as they could, and (understandably) don't have the depth and variety of courses of Coursera, etc.

2) Lack of social interaction. At university, I learned a lot of subjects very well simply by teaching others in them (tutoring students who were lagging, and later paid tutoring). I miss this interaction a lot. I should take the initiative and make YouTube videos and blog posts teaching others about material I have learned, but I often forget as I get lost in textbook readings and online lectures.


1. I am actually working into more interactive way of learning rather than just a guy teaching in the video of an hour before proceeding. I can do that by taking text based study course rather video based.

2. Social interaction is missing, yes. But there is also a greater deal of learning that occurs when we study alone.

Can you please elaborate what you refer when you emphasize on more interactive exercise?

I totally agree with you, just want to look for what you had in mind.


- Attention Deficit Disorder

- Lack of legitimate certification (as opposed to brick and mortar schools)

- Lack of autonomy in childhood (spoon-fed knowledge)

- Learning to learn is not taught in school

- Analysis paralysis (too many things and ways to learn)


> - Learning to learn is not taught in school

that can't be taught, pretty much by definition. It can be encouraged though and that is done (by you right there if not in general).


Not sure about the large number of people, but speaking for myself:

1.Despite having an overwhelming stream of learning resources, it’s still hard to find something that is excellent personally for you not only in terms of theme, level, content, structure, pace, etc. but also fits your learning style the way material just clicks immediately.

Without this clicking you lose precious time and pleasure of a great learning experience, which are among top factors in learning. For many people the time that they can afford to spend to learn a new skill is extremely limited.

And even with some very mainstream themes like learning English or Python, it’s extremely hard to find exactly what you need. There are not so many great courses inside every given niche as you might think (even if you judge by some 5 of 50 criteria that matter for you), and even on top courses the personalization is absent or is done poorly.

2. The more niche is the theme you’re seeking to learn about, the harder it is to find something great, even just something worthwhile of your time. English for TOEFL? Ok. English for business? Ok. English for architects? Ha-ha. English for landscape architects? Ha-ha-ha!

3. Nearly 98% of all courses offer a poor communication model that doesn’t work (at least, for me) at all. Forum only? Slow, ask-and-pray model. Mentorship only? Expensive, hard to schedule. Chat only? Noisy, hard to navigate. Great communication over a course should combine different channels, with each of them being of high quality. Also they should be mixed up very thoughtfully and have a great deal of flexibility/personalization. This alone is quite hard to achieve.

4. Different topics/materials demand different approaches to learning, that are not always obvious, especially for beginners and people coming from different industries. I haven’t seen a course support that, along teaching the subject itself, constantly directs you in terms of how to consume the presented types of information the most efficient way that will save you time and instill the best habits.

Hence many students struggle just to figure out how to deal with the course. Many people have even lower levels of understanding how to approach learning, learning how to learn should probably be ingrained in every course.

5. There is a widespread type of courses that teach you how to build some product, like let’s build a Yelp clone over a month. Many people who take these moocs struggle financially and take them to monetize the new skill asap.

So why so few courses teach how to build commercial products, that will bring students not only knowledge, but also an opportunity to market the outcome and have some real profit?


> So why so few courses teach how to build commercial products, that will bring students not only knowledge, but also an opportunity to market the outcome and have some real profit?

because that would create competition and nullify the opportunity

> Hence many students struggle just to figure out how to deal with the course. Many people have even lower levels of understanding how to approach learning, learning how to learn should probably be ingrained in every course.

The first part is true, learning how to learn is prerequisite to university level courses, self-organization is expected from a high school curriculum. This is a difficult topic. Hence, the second part is out of focus for such courses.

> Nearly 98% of all courses offer a poor communication model

You could say the same about any campus, but communication apart from the course material is not at first order the responsibility of the course offering to solve, except in courses focused on social sciences, or rather soft skills.

Anyhow, forums are difficult, true, but bulletin boards and mailing-lists are the traditional channels of the internet. Social networks are a developing industry. Video or just audio is a proven alternative to text.

For courses focused on communication, from my experience, a class on presentation technique was as an insightful topic, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. Surely, less technical topics are less amenable via just text.

> The more niche is the theme you’re seeking to learn about, the harder it is to find something great, even just something worthwhile of your time.

as I just said

> English for TOEFL? Ok. English for business? Ok. English for architects? Ha-ha. English for landscape architects? Ha-ha-ha!

Technical vernacular is C level (in toefel terms, I guess). Reading a book on the topic should help to familiarity with the topic.

> Despite having an overwhelming stream of learning resources, it’s still hard to find something that is excellent personally ...

The choice is overwhelming, therefore, focus is needed. Mass education is not really intended to be totally personal. Gamification is a current theme in motivation, maybe finding the right course can be seen as an adventure? A course is always just supplemental, don't expect too much of it, too.


I believe Online Education is the future of knowledge distribution. Yes, I admit that it lacks social gatherings among the beings sharing the same competitive-cum-curious motive to graduate. However, I see in the future with the tech innovations like Virtual Reality, Improved Compression & Broadcasting on the Web, one can have access to the top-notch contents on the desired subject once he/she accumulates enough motivation & stays focused on the curriculum regardless of the duration he/she takes to complete it. So, yes I feel positive towards the future of education although it might face numerous criticism..those who will stay determined to exercise the contents the web has to offer, will definitely overcome the cons of e-learning.


Too many options! Give me 3 things to pick from, I'll debate for a while, go with one and after awhile feeling it's less than adequate, I'll start looking at the other two.

Give me many more options, as the internet does, it gets much worse.

If only we knew exactly what we wanted to study and there was one good option/path for it


I'm working on this subject too and it is exciting to see others trying to fix it too. I'm focusing on CS education/software development, which I guess should be easier to learn online.


It lacks community and the realtime face to face physical social interaction that makes learning both interesting and fun.

Educational websites might be better used in a classroom than a bedroom.


I would suggest that you get better at asking questions before you tackle such a HUGE topic. Start by defining what you mean by flawed.

Then explain what you mean by prevent and lastly define what you mean by "learning on your own".

Finally for a bit of contrast take a look at Sugata Mitra's Hole in the Wall experiment and contrast that with whatever idea you have about online self study.


Have you taken and completed an online course yourself? What have you noticed was difficult?


it doesnt have a page with all the answers at the end of the book


Well, if it has a page with all the answers at the end of the book, the course will be pretty huge.

Usually what I have seen is that 1. Homework questions usually have answers 2. And open-ended questions are usually for people to think about but the same goes for books also. Most books don't provide answers for open ended thoughful questions.

Can you specify instances where it is required?




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