Club-Admiralty

v6.2.3 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Formal education and social capital

You don't go to Harvard for the Education. You go to Harvard for the Connections!
- someone from my past (I don't remember who).

The other day a long-distance friend and colleague posted an interesting blog post pondering (or positing?) that Social and Cultural capital are the main problem in online education. A very engaging twitter thread and discussion ensued (which I am having trouble locating at the moment), but I thought I'd let the dust settle a bit and collect my thoughts on the matter first.  It is a little self-serving too because I wanted to get back into the habit of writing and this seemed like a good opportunity.  As I was thinking about where to start untangling this thread the quote at the beginning of this post came to mind†.

As I was thinking about this I interrogated some of my educational experiences, both undergraduate, and graduate, and free-range learning (like MOOCs).  Most of my education was residential in nature. Although I do prefer distance education‡ life circumstanced necessitated campus courses for most of my education♠ I am also leaving free-range learning aside. This sets the background for my views. So, what do my (totally anecdotal) experiences point to?  Social Capital♣ is not baked into higher education at all.  It may be the frosting on the Higher Education Cake, but it's not really an integral part of the experience. There are some courses, that required collaboration, cooperation, or some form of human-human communication certainly approached the topic tangentially♥ but large section courses and lecture courses did not.

So where does learning about social and cultural capital come from in the higher education environment? Extracurricular activities! Oddly enough I think I learned most of my face-to-face skills in this area during my MBA program.  There were a number of guest lectures and free workshops available throughout my MBA program that looked at this topic. It was also included in quite a few cases in managerial and HR courses♦ I took.  Now, do I remember most of my classmates that I had in class (in person, no less!).  Not really.  I remember the dozen or so people I worked on projects with, but thanks to LinkedIn I am reminded there were others too 😊. I do consider myself to be an introvert, so organized events and socials, like the ones my MBA program had, were not my favorite venue, but I attended some nevertheless because of the value associated with them.

This begs the question: who do I remember the most? The answer is people from my free-range learning, and people who I met online.  Social capital, for people that are at a distance, for me developed outside of the classroom, and not even as an extracurricular activity that was tied to the classroom.  University facilities did help◊ but ultimately those connections were made via trial and error, and the willingness to take a leap of faith and chat with total strangers⊕. What makes that leap of faith worth taking?  I suppose it depends on each individual. For me, it was finding people to chat in Greek.  For others, it seemed to be about soccer, or hockey, or super Mario or some other common interest.  The skills learned in these online experiences and online social circles translated directly to both formal distance education as well as free-range online learning. A bit tangentially, the benefit I saw of online vs. face-to-face was that I could easily lurk in online environments and jump in when I felt ready, whereas in face-to-face environments that's a bit awkward.

From my experiences, it seems to me that learning about and experiencing the accumulation of social capital, is a by-product of actual social experiences themselves. And, in order to have those social experiences, you need some other motivating subject (learning, language practice, keeping in touch, discussing the finer points of your favorite novels, etc.).  Curriculum (online or f2f) doesn't do that by itself.  The experience needs to be engineered in order for it to happen. So, I would say that social and cultural capital are not problems in the online learning environment.  It's a bit of an issue across all learning - but it's only an issue if you expect that to be an outcome (sort of like the nameless person who said what I quoted at the beginning).

Your thoughts?




Marginalia:
It's been said and heard many times, but the one that sticks out to me is the context of cost: You can get an equally good education at Harvard and at your local state university, but you go to Harvard for the connections that will potentially set you up for life. It's highly problematic if you think about it, and it becomes even more so with recent news of Epstein and his connection to universities (i.e., paying large amounts of money to be close to influential people and thinkers). Anyway, I digress.
why drive into campus, park, pay for parking, and deal with traffic when you can learn on the train?
tuition for campus courses was free (employee benefit) whereas online was not.
defined as "the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively." by the OED - didn't bother diving deeper into the sociological literature
Hey, we did have to work together after all!
As opposed to marketing, finance, IT/IS and accounting courses
I didn't have the internet at home at the time, but high-speed internet was available on-campus, so I spent a lot of time in the computer lab
Ah, the Yahoo! Chat days... brings back good memories
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