I wrote recently about self-service learning and how MOOCs offer a convenient complement to formal education. The analogy of the self-service cafeteria where learners can compose their own blend of short courses is very attractive and I believe that we are seeing the emergence of a much more varied and flexible ecosystem for learning combining the benefits of short, just-in-time online courses with longer formal courses and programmes. You choose the option that best fits your current lifestyle and needs.
However there is a danger of letting everyone compose their own education by piecing together dishes from a gigantic buffet. What happens if you only choose the cakes and miss out the vegetables? This is the theme of an article in the Washington Post by Robert F Bruner: Commentary: Without structure, learning crumbles. He's worried that the new educational buffet will mean that people will only learn what they want to learn and thus will miss the less attractive but essential details that put everything into context. It's a bit like the problem of personalization on the web. If we can tweak our preferences so that we are only exposed to news and information that we agree with we will simply live in a bubble, unaware of other points of view or sheltered from unpleasant information. Our own preferences are not enough. Someone has to ensure that we have a balanced diet.
"Too much dessert and not enough broccoli. Students who simply follow their appetites will eventually find some educational candy: courses that may gratify an immediate interest, but don’t really build one’s capabilities. Like a healthy diet, a great education consists of a balance of intellectual nutrition. Eat your vegetables. They are good for you."
How do we make sure students "eat their greens" as well as benefitting from the flexibility and diversity of today's learning environment?