Learning from HuffPost College

05/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Let's imagine that you hadn't, or couldn't, or didn't want to go to college, but you went to HuffPost College instead. In a world where more and more people can't afford higher education but can access the internet, this thought-game is not as lame as it might first appear. Asking such a question makes people think about the structures, politics, economics, and methods of contemporary information delivery (and thus their own learning), in ways that might otherwise stay (intentionally) transparent. So, at least, was my thinking when I taught the course "Learning from YouTube," at Pitzer College in 2007 and 2008, chosen as one of the "Coolest College Courses" for a recent "Slide-Show" here, on HuffPost College.

Some of the lessons my students and I learned during our grueling education (it wasn't easy, even it it was funny) on and about YouTube concisely define the education one might get here, as well:

1) Learning by Slide-Show: the on-line space turns complicated things into what I have called "slogans," usually funny, bite-sized media-morsels organized around spectacle or other easily recognizable icons that are easy to get, quickly consumed, and immediate to forget. A college course takes hundreds of hours of class-time, uncountable hours dedicated to the reading and preparation of advanced materials, productive dialogue, hours of research, etc. To reduce something as rich as a class to its title, or a slide, is one of the dominant vernaculars of the internet, and while it may move information quickly, and efficiently, as well as producing a quick laugh, it loses the depth, complexity, and possibilities to build ideas that traditional learning (and longer-form writing) once allowed.

2) Learning by Corporation: Like YouTube, the HuffPost is corporate owned and ad-driven. Unlike most institutions of higher education it is a for-profit enterprise. What is on the page must be dictated by monetary imperative as well as open access: much on the HPCollege page is neither information nor blogging.

3) Learning by Edutainment: My class was included on this page as a joke (one I set in motion with its "cool" title, and happily play to), and while much on the page is "serious" journalism, as much is fun-and-forgettable stuff: gags, contests, button towards pseudo-participation... the page is brimming, busy, and (dis)organized around such gizmos and distractions, always leading you to search for more but not stay in place. In the college classroom we seek concentration, focus, and depth (by forcing you to stay in your seat!)

Of course, all on-line sites are unique (if linked), and each manifests its own strengths and liabilities for learning via its architecture, content, and protocols. Which is to say, if given the choice, I'd much rather go to HuffPost College over UTube: it allows for a multiplicity of opinions to be expressed in a variety of formats and in healthy conversation (long and short, expert and amateur); the comments are not quite as a short, stupid, or unproductive as those on YouTube; and the architecture provides better search tools so that one can actually find and re-find the information one seeks.

While I could say more (if I took longer to write this), blogs are best when they are topical and immediate. You can read more of my years of thinking and writing about YouTube, or watch my students' videos, or better yet (quickly!) respond in kind: producing the collaborative, interactive, lively, boundary-breaking possibilities where the internet beats out the college every time!