The magic of the campus

At the LINC conference the question came up why we still have residential education given what is possible online nowadays. Professor Sanjay Sarma talked about the magic of the campus that does not happen online. In essence his point in his own words is “there is essential magic in residential in-person education that is difficult to articulate, let alone replicate online
One of the main points Sarma seems to make is that in what he calls “second order learning or higher order learning” moral values are installed in students. Where in online learning what merely happens is “instruction” the transfer of knowledge from one person to another.
He went on by stating that good MOOCs could free up time in residential education for, as he stated in his article, “the still intangible pathways by which higher-order learning – the magic, the metacognition, the deep learning – occurs: mentoring, discourse, writing, project work, teamwork, serendipity, creativity, synthesis, and the delivery of nuggets of knowledge at the time they are most relevant.”
Let me try to describe one thing that happens on campus, that does not happen online (or more precise that is difficult to organize online) and that could be responsible for the occurrence of  higher order learning.
Social learning theory describes the way in which we learn by observing the behaviors of others. Something that can be less easily and less intensively be done online. Social learning theory states that there are several steps involved before learning occurs: the learner must pay attention to the model from whom he wants to learn something, the learner must be able to remember the details of the observed behavior, the learner must be able to reproduce the observed behavior and there must be an incentive to reproduce the observed behavior.
I want to focus on the attention part and the motivation part who seem to me to be interrelated also. So to whom do we pay attention? We are most likely to pay attention to a person with authority (because they seem to know things that are worthwhile knowing) or to persons we like. A campus provides you with both. Teachers with authority and a lot of peers with whom you can become friends. As for the motivation part it’s easy to understand why we would be motivated to reproduce the behavior of a teacher. Friends we choose because we like the way a person is that in its-self seems to be a motivating factor in reproducing their behavior.
Now we were not talking about clear cut behavior that is easy to observe so that it could be done online easily also. We were talking about moral values, a way of presenting yourself to the world.Seems to me that that is something you only learn by seeing it over and over again, by debating it with your peers and by trying it out yourself in different settings to experience theeffect it has on your environment. So that it over a lengthy period of time modifies your own behavior because your environment tacitly or more openly encourages this behavior.
Let me conclude with two forms of behavior that I observed here at MIT and that seem to me to be part of MIT’s moral values (among many others). I observed this  behavior regularly in the MIT people attending the conference:
  • They are very respectful towards people with other opinions and seem to genuinely want to understand the other persons point of view.
  • They very easily admit not to know something and are reluctant to make statements that they cannot corroborate with data.
Both seem to me behaviors you do not learn people by simply instructing them to behave like that.
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