2008-01-28 10:51 PM

Education by the Large vs. the Small

There are several sets of parallel models I could choose for this sort of comparison. Corporation versus individual, university versus tutor, publishing versus software, military versus mercenary, etc. In the context of commerce and teaching we will start with university versus tutor. (Please excuse my personification of the system that is a university. It is purely for convenience.)

The difference is not primarily a matter of what happens nor even just a matter of scale. The difference really lies in the approach and world-view involved.

Within the goal of educating students a university and a private tutor have many similarities.

  1. Both perform this service for something in return — money, recognition, experience, a warm fuzzy feeling, etc. (This is the quid-pro-quo required for commerce.)
  2. Both university and tutor deliver similar content. (Setting aside the way in which they approach the material and the way in which the information is transmitted.)
  3. Both play the numbers game and expose ten, a hundred, a thousand times as many people as they take on as “clients”. This is by way of some form of communication, often advertising such as billboards, magazine ads, word-of-mouth, flyers, etc.

So what are some of the differences?

  1. Overhead – A university maintains facilities, equipment, records, and the staff that supports this infrastructure. All of those resources (people spending time, energy, and money) are secondary to the “money making” activity of teaching and learning. The tutor typically requires students, a location to study, some books, and maybe some papers. Once you have the first (students) you can typically make use of existing resources for the remaining items.
  2. Expected Knowledge – Most people paying for a degree (and the university education leading to that diploma) come with the reasonable expectation that their professors will have extensive knowledge in the field. Generally, the tutor is expected to know more on the subject than the student or at least be able to guide the student through their current problem.
  3. Adaptability – All of the infrastructure also maintains a fair bit of inertia (a body at rest tends to stay at rest, a body in motion tends to stay in motion). Imagine an aircraft carrier (university) attempting to make a sharp turn when it is at cruising speed. The one man fishing boat (tutor) has much better maneuverability. Of course a fishing boat and an aircraft carrier are made for totally different purposes.

The fun part is that this is an entirely artificial comparison — both tutor and university provide complementary services. What I find most interesting is the space between a single tutor and a degree granting university, especially when coupled with the potential embodied in delivering lessons digitally. More on that soon.

What topics do you know well enough to “tutor” others?
How much of the space between ignorance and mastery can you cover?

Posted by Wayne Buckhanan No Comments »

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