Friday, October 31, 2014

Book, lecture, course, degree

What is the difference between reading a book, attending a lecture, taking a course and getting a degree? Basically, the amount of time involved, especially in the traditional format, time away from home, time in a specific location, as on campus.  But in a formal sense, a major difference is checking.  In a course and in getting a degree, there is often some test or exam or orals or other way of verifying understanding or skill on the part of the participant.

For adults who know that they want to learn, the existence of some test is a major marker.  I participate in a senior citizen's organization in which there are lectures but no exams or verifications of any formal type.  And yet, the level of questioning and commenting in the classes is very high, often higher than even guest professors have ever experienced.  Many younger people, even in their 30's, are somewhat intimidated by the presence of others in a classroom.  The phenomenon is basically the fear of looking stupid, I think.  What if the question has just been answered and I missed that? What if my question is far too elementary?  I bet everyone else in the room already knows the answer to my question and I am wasting their time.

Older people can often shut that worry off and simply state that they are confused or that they would like to know a further point.  If they are not understood, they are willing and able to repeat the question or rephrase it, even multiple times.

Many of my generation have only experienced tests and examinations that were one shot deals.  Take the test and "pass" and you are basically ok.  "Fail" and you aren't and better luck to you next time.  That approach is not logically necessary.  It is possible to face a test as a shopping list.  Here are the items the teacher or school or examining body wants evidence that you know, can explain, can perform.  If you can't perform #3 and #7, you could be cleared on the rest of the items and provided further instruction and practice on those two that caused you trouble.  When it is time, you can try those two again.  If you pass, you have completed the instruction.  If not, we will look more deeply at what the problem seems to be for you and again offer more instruction and practice.  You will accomplish what you are after before long.

Of course, there is the matter of aging.  In teaching and law to name two areas, there may be license or reputation requirements of further education, continuing education, inservice education or re-certification.  A police officer may need to be recertified on the firing range.  Again, there may be a test or performance that will be passed or failed.

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