MOOCs are libraries, not teachers

Mass distribution of learning material has been around for a few centuries and has yet to replace the process of guided learning. While it's possible to amass facts and skills from reading and listening, it's much more difficult to produce complex works of value without feedback on the process.

Doing mathematics isn't just applying rules and techniques. It's about knowing how to reason, and writing a proof in a way which communicates your reasoning clearly to others. You can get started by following along with proofs from a lecture, but in order to really ingrain the techniques in your brain, you have to write proofs of things you've never encountered before. Someone has to read those proofs, and give feedback on where your reasoning was unclear, incomplete, or flawed. They can suggest a different notation, or a shorter path to the same solution. Good teachers will leave notes: “this is a cool idea you've developed here, and it points towards this area of complex analysis we haven't talked about yet.”

In psychology it's not enough to memorize a summary text and a smattering of papers. You need to be asked questions. “There's a critical flaw in this paper's sampling methodology. Can you find it? How would you improve it?” “What kind of systematic bias can we expect in these results?” If nobody asks those questions, and helps you hone in on the answers, you'll miss out on half the text. You'll be unprepared to evaluate the quality of others research–or to design experiments of your own.

This process can't be automated yet. Human beings have to read and respond to your work, preferably at interactive latencies.

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