An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Then end of live lectures? Maybe not yet.

  • Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70
  • 1
mick Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

We went to see the Stones the other night, as we always do when they are in town. We just can't miss seeing what Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Charlie Watts are up to.

Then, before my ears stopped ringing the next day, I saw on one of the MIT what's-happening displays something to the effect that live lectures are dead. Maybe if it is said often enough, it will make it true.

I recalled the concert. Of course I could have listened to all those songs as I drove to work at any volume I liked. I could have popped a video into all the fancy electronic toys I keep in the media room. But I didn't. Instead, I spent a lot of money for the welcome privilege of filling my eyes with real photons bouncing off real people, surrounded by about 18,000 other similarly minded fans.

So is the live lecture dead? Not yet, I think. We like the social act of seeing it live with others. We like having singular people in the same room, even if it is a big room.

So in our rush to MOOC everything, maybe we are asking the wrong question. We ask how can we get out stuff out to 10s of thousands or 100s of thousands of people. Instead, maybe we should ask what 100 skills, concepts, and experiences should every MIT student acquire by age 30.

Then, we can ask how we can best use established and emerging technology to deliver those skills, concepts, and experiences.*

The list would include elements every educated MIT graduate should understand at one level or another just because he or she is entitled to wear a Brass Rat. My candidates would include probability and statistics, electromagnetic wave propagation, limits to what can be computed, chemistry of one sort or another, the nature and origins of life, and what makes our species unique, all of which are readily available, but none of which are now required of every MIT student.

But alas, who is to make such a list? Perhaps I should volunteer, but then I think, in rational moments, that I should just consign the idea to the Arco Santi directory.**

* See the What's Next with MITx for more on the subject of web-enabled educational transformation.

** The place where I put romantic ideas that I write up just for fun,


Rohan D'Souza

Mon, 10/17/2016 8:31am

I found a flaw in the comparison of lectures going extinct due to online courses and concerts not going extinct due to Itunes or Spotify.
There are two ways of approaching the topic that live lecture may die.

First you can look at the issue as one may one may look upon the similar issue of printing books loosing popularity due to the progression of the digital era. Most individuals advocating that printed books will never go extinct are discussing the emotional aspect of holding a physical book; how there is a sense of reality when you can touch a book. This is what I believe you were talking about when you discussed the senses you experienced at the concert, and how these senses cannot be emulated through a pair of headphones.

However the main difference between a concert and a lecture, is the purpose of which people use the two. One is used for pure enjoyment while one is used for simply gaining knowledge. And though there are some that argue that they learn better when they can see real photons bouncing of a person rather than of an LCD screen, as more and more information on the internet becomes more organized and targeted towards education (such as code academy, Udacity, even online colleges) the necessity for live lectures will decrease. Eventually the only argument for keeping live lectures around will be the emotional state of the viewers when they are sitting in a college lecture room versus their bed.

In addition, looking at just a concert vs a downloadable song, they too have evolved with different purposes. Concerts evolved to overwhelm the audience more and more: light shows became more advanced, sound effect / staging effect became more"awesome", but the whole purpose of evolving the mass distribution of online songs were to allow people to not be forced to go down to their local record store and buy a record. Spotify and Itunes serve as the Netflix of vinyl music.
I think an appropriate comparison would not have been live concerts to car songs, it should have been vinyl records to car songs.
When considering live lectures and moocs, they both stand to serve the same purpose, distributing knowledge. Moocs can completely replace live lectures.
In my opinion, live lecturers aren't dead... yet. It is just a matter of time.