Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Temple Grandin smacks down Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule: a MOOC post

Over at Wired, in "Your Genes Don't Fit: Why 10,000 Hours of Practice Won't Make You an Expert," Temple Grandin and Richard Panek take on Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule. Citing Gladwell's well-known example of Bill Gates's computer opportunities, she describes her own similar experience:
Now let me tell you the other side of that story. In the late 1960s, when I was a student at Franklin Pierce College, I had access to the same terminal as Gates — the exact same Teletype terminal. The school’s computer system tapped into the University of New Hampshire’s mainframe. So I had as much access as I wanted, and I had as much firepower as I wanted, and it was all free. And you’d better believe I wanted to spend as much time as possible on that computer. I love that sort of stuff; I love to see how new technology works. The computer was called Rax, so when I turned on the computer, a message would type out on paper: Rax says hello. Please sign in. And I would eagerly sign in.
And that was it. I could do that much — but that was all. I was hopeless. My brain simply doesn’t work in a way that allows me to write code. So saying that if I’d spent ten thousand hours talking to Rax, I would be a successful computer programmer, because anyone can be a successful computer programmer, is crazy.
I say: Talent + 10,000 hours of work = Success. Or to put it another way: Nature + nurture = Success.
Others say: 10,000 hours of work = Success. Or to put it another way: Nurture = Success.
This one-size-fits-all approach to learning seems to me the fallacy--okay, one of many fallacies--of the MOOC paradigm.  Even if you grant the following MOOC cheerleading points, which are repeated ad nauseam as fact by The New York Times--
  • That all classes, everywhere in universities, are terrible 1000-person lectures where bad Podunk U teachers drone on to disengaged students;
  • That bad Podunk U teachers, which includes everyone not in a MOOC affiliation, only know how to lecture from yellowing notes and have no idea how to engage students in discussion;
  • That video lectures are much, much better than in-person lectures because they are shiny and from "the best of the best";
  • That those who are against MOOCS also hate baseball, puppies, and humanity
--you are still left with this question: how do you tap into students' varying talents and abilities? 

A MOOC will let you put in the 10,000 hours. It's never going to know the difference. Will it lead to inevitable success, though?

I'm not talking about learning styles but the differences in individuals that you see in any class where there's discussion--that is, any humanities class. They all have talents, but how do you reach them? 

Do you think that Eager Keener in the front row, who has her hand up for 30 minutes out of a 50-minute class, would do well in a MOOC? She might, but how would she (1) receive the affirmation that she so obviously craves and at the same time (2) learn how to share attention and listen to other members of the class without a real live teacher who brings out those abilities?

Or what about Slouchy McBaseballcap, who sits in the back row and is terrified lest his cool be shattered by answering a question?  Sitting for 10,000 hours in front of a computer screen might be just his cup of Red Bull, and in fact, he probably does it already with WoW or Minecraft or something. But how is he going to recognize other talents for analysis, writing, and discussion if there's no live teacher? 

If 10,000 hours in front of a screen were all that mattered, Sunrise Semester would have educated everyone already. But there's more to it than that. 


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that Malcolm Gladwell (in Outliers) also said it's Talent + practice = success (he may have even included luck).

It's been a while since I read it, but that's my recollection.

But yes, there's definitely a personal element to the in-class that is absent from MOOC... particularly the part where you judge whether or not the class is "getting it" as a group and what you need to go over again.

undine said...

I think you're right. I can't believe that Gladwell would have overlooked the "talent" part of the equation.