Monday, December 29, 2014

Online Collective Knowledge: Perks and Dangers

In online adult continuing education, it is not uncommon for the collective knowledge of an online class to exceed that of the instructor's. Think of a class in marketing where many of the class members have 10 or more years of practical experience. While the textbook and instructor can provide you with great summaries of current trends or the details of psychological studies, the class members have equally valuable information to share with you about their experiences in the real world. One of the perks of online education is that you get exposure to perspectives from students from many walks of life and many parts of the world. You'll want to access that well of knowledge provided by other students, using the techniques we explain in the book.

There are also some dangers to relying too heavily on collective "knowledge." It's possible for the majority of the class to get on the wrong track in a discussion topic. In the rush to answer discussion questions on time students sometimes rely too heavily on their experience or simply express what is "common knowledge" about a topic without carefully reading the text. Common "knowledge," even "common sense," can be exactly what your textbook is trying to argue against! That is why you'll want to be sure you read the text first and be sure you understand what the instructor wants and what the text says before you launch into a discussion with your fellow students. You need to keep focused on earning points by engaging in discussion questions in the way intended by your instructor and course designer. MANY students fall into the trap of thinking that simply because they have had rip-roaring discussions with their classmates, they are maximizing their chances for the best grades. This is rarely true. Be sure you integrate the knowledge in the text with the collective knowledge of your peers. Collective knowledge is a supplement to the course text, not a replacement for it.

Note: in our book, "text" refers to all the assigned readings of the course, whether they be online articles, a printed textbook, or videos.   

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