Digital media and the internet have revolutionized and democratized much in education. From "how to" videos by amateurs to full on graduate degrees by great universities, it has never been easier or cheaper to learn what you what to know, from your house, at any hour of the night. Missed a lecture? That's ok, the power point presentation might be available via the yahoo group, or the full lecture might be taped and online for your use. You're not actually enrolled at that University? That's also ok, that video lecture might be online and available to the public.
Regarding individual lessons, the amount that you can now access by experts is practically infinite:
Want to learn how to make your own greenhouse? Here you go: http://www.easygrow.com/
How about how to skin a deer from David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D. Professor of Biology and Chemistry? Here you go: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Cheese/deerskinning/index_deerskinning.html
Aside from the individual lessons on anything and everything, the way digital media and web 2.0 have changed and enhanced the traditional classroom and learning experience is vast and growing. A recent published study showed that online education is on-par or even better than in person education. Tools such as forums for dialogue, videos of lessons, lectures, performances, etc., instant messaging, blogs, and internet groups for sharing lesson plans, schedules, files, and enabling class conversations, have created an environment which can "provide learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms" and "enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful" (New York Times, August 2009, http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/study-finds-that-online-education-beats-the-classroom/).
What is not quoted about this study is whether solely online education is more or less preferable to a combined in person plus online learning experience. My hunch would lean towards the combined experience being best. The question of "What is lost by not physically being there?" is very important and likely varies greatly per field. For example, I scored a perfect score twice on my written Drivers Permit test, but faired so poorly on the actual driving test that the person giving the exam actually grabbed the wheel and pulled the car over to the curb (yeah yeah, go ahead an laugh). My non-physically being there scores are perfect, but no one in their right mind would allow me to drive.
You might not need to physically be there to discuss the Civil War, but you really do need to put your hands on the strings to play the violin. And someone needs to put your fingers on it and look at your hands, arms, shoulders and general body position to make sure you are doing it right, and if you aren't, poke and prod you until you are doing it right. As budgets are cut more every year on arts education, and teachers must find ways to teach in less and less expensive ways, arts education will have to begin to use these web 2.0 tools in order to enable arts education to stay a viable option within schools where (for unjustifiable reasons) it becomes a lower and lower priority. So we must ask, when is physically being there necessary, and when it is, how can digital media tools still be used to enhance the learning experience.
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