The Impact of Massive Open Online Courses on the University Curriculum

Andrew Ng, founder of Coursera and lecturer on Machine Learning, one of the best MOOCs I took so far.
Andrew Ng, founder of Coursera and lecturer on Machine Learning, one of the best MOOCs I took so far.

Abstract

In 2011 the phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) emerged with great visibility and promises of access to state-of-the-art knowledge at low cost and in a flexible format. In a society with increasingly higher educational needs, MOOCs seem to provide a solution which disregards financial, geographical and academic requirements, having the student’s willingness to learn as their only prerequisite. Today MOOCs are increasing in size and number, unveiling a new educational paradigm for the time-conscious information era.  As their stark difference with high-cost, comparatively inflexible university education becomes more evident, the question of the future of universities and the effect of this newfound model to their curriculum becomes more pressing.

In my presentation I aim to demonstrate that university education is recognised as being more than solely a collection of modules and that the new horizons presented by MOOCs demonstrate an effective and very efficient model to achieve student engagement and information retention that must not be neglected. I will argue that MOOCs will not replace universities and that the discussions they raise go beyond that of distance versus in presence education, addressing the learning and engagement patterns of a constantly connected generation. The insights provided by MOOCs cannot be ignored and will inevitably permeate the latter’s modus operandi as it in fact already have with certain aspects of these courses such as anytime, anywhere access to courseware already gaining space within UWL, being emulated by tools such as Blackboard, UWL Replay and access to Lynda.com. It will be shown that this phenomenon should not be translated into a worry that loosely trained professionals may erode academic relevance, but that the future of academia will not be threatened by these courses, on the contrary, it will be enhanced through the appropriation of their insights. Once more education institutions are called to rethink their methods to best serve society’s needs in both the transmission and furtherance of knowledge.

MOOCs and the University Curriculum

In 2008 Stephen Downes and George Siemens offered the course “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” online from the University of Manitoba, Canada. They made it available for whoever wanted to take part on it and an incredible number of 2200 people subscribed to the course. (Johnson et al., n.d.). Afterwards, the next notable event was in 2011 when the online version of the “Artificial Intelligence” module from Stanford University had 160,000 students and in the following year “Circuits and Electronics” was offered online openly by the MIT and gathered 155,000 students (Milheim, 2013). These are some early examples of what is now known as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Two teachers of some of those courses, amazed by what happened when they made them available online founded their own companies dedicated to producing these kind of courses in this very specific online format; that is how Coursera and Udacity came to life. After them, Harvard and the MIT formed Edx and the Open University started FutureLearn.

For those who do not know how a MOOC is like, it typically is divided into weeks, each week containing a series of video lectures, reading materials and a multiple choice test. The video lectures usually figure a whiteboard with a hand writing on it and a teacher talking as if he were right at your side. The video pauses some times and asks a question about what was being said, to which every student must answer. This way not only one smart student answers the question but everyone. At the end of the course there is usually a peer-reviewed assignment.

The founders and partners of these companies have then gone out to evangelise about the benefits of MOOCs and the revolution that they were bringing about. The impact of some of those courses was truly impressive. For instance, the first Artificial Intelligence course from Stanford University, which was mentioned before, was completed by 23000 students. This is more than the combination of all other students of this subject area in the world (How free online courses are changing traditional education., 2013). This is because MOOCs are characteristically open; they are free and they do not have strict academic requirements, which means that you can sign up for the course regardless of your background. By being online they also do not place geographical constraints on their students and people from around the world can access them. Additionally, MOOCs have been given by the best Universities in the planet and promise to deliver education of the same level that their students are getting on campus. It is a promise of state-of-the-art knowledge taught by star professors for free.

This makes a stark contrast with UK’s higher education, and actually with post-secondary education almost anywhere, which inevitably have academic requirements for enrolment, a high cost, and place a geographical limitation by requiring students to be there. This may thus raise the question of whether making MOOCs the future of higher education is an offer you can’t refuse. Good education, for anyone, anywhere, for free.

But not so fast. MOOCs also have a series of disadvantages which may or may not be a problem depending on what you expect the MOOC to accomplish. Firstly, because there are so many students, teachers cannot coach them or asses their work. Students having difficulties have to look for help in the course forum and examinations are either peer-assessed or automatically evaluated by a program. This gives room for plagiarism as there is no way to know whether a student really did his work or paid someone else to do it given that no one knows the student. The assessment question is of crucial importance and given that there is no reliable way to assess students, MOOCs cannot provide credit bearing qualifications, only certificates of course completion. Although a solution is being sought, this means that at least for now MOOCs cannot substitute university education.

But assessments are not the only reason for that. Among other disadvantages of MOOCs we see the difficulty to contextualise the content with the students’ environments, the unfeasibility of adequate group work in this online setting, and a great criticism has been their high drop-out rate. In the “Circuits and Electronics” course from MIT mentioned before, for example, only 9,000 out of the 155,000 students completed the course (Milheim, 2013). This, however, must not be mistakenly thought to be so because the course was bad or too difficult; there are many reasons why people take these freely available courses apart from earning a certificate. Actually, interestingly, many people who take these courses already have a degree and may be taking them to refresh their memory or may be interested in sections of the course.

Nonetheless, a critical problem with MOOCs is that they are currently unable to attract a stream of revenue capable of funding themselves or the organisations that make them available. Companies like Coursera, Udacity and EdX are not making money, they are losing a substantial amount of money.

But even losing this money and having these drawbacks these companies are still receiving funding and more and more universities are engaging with the idea and contributing with courses. Why? Because it is being massively adopted and people are really learning. It is hard to tell who were the ones that really learned it and who were the ones that didn’t, but people that apply themselves learn well and enjoy the process because engagement is strong with this one. These courses have gained such great visibility because they are able to capture students’ attention and engage with them in a novel and effective manner.

Now, the novelty of the method is not a product of any new principle or insight into how learning and teaching works. On the contrary, it is the application of known learning paradigms into a technological context. We know what works and what does not work in education already as we have all heard of “active learning,” “peer learning,” “flipping the lecture,” etc. MOOCs are just an online implementation of what works. The reason MOOCs are so popular, however, is not solely its active search for an appropriate implementation of common knowledge about teaching, but its impact is maximised by a passive omission of Higher Education institutions in doing so. Although we know how learning occurs and effective methods to teach, the truth is that academic pedagogy can be not very good and classes can many times amount to a lecturer giving a monologue even though we know that that is not a very effective method to achieve information retention (Vardi, 2012). With MOOCs learning is now more fun and, very importantly, quicker.

Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity
Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity

This configures a better way to achieve student engagement and knowledge retention. This could only be achieved because of technology. Technology is intrinsically disruptive as it seeks to provide better ways to do things that were already being done before to then achieve new things; thus, its goal is to make things obsolete. One of the reasons some lecturers do not like MOOCs is the fear that they may be made obsolete. And that is a very reasonable fear as resource thirsty institutions may start to offer some modules online to save money, thus hiring less PhDs and making graduate or undergraduate students course advisors (How free online courses are changing traditional education., 2013). So will lecturers be or not be made obsolete, that is the question.

Technology’s solutions have advantages and disadvantages that must be pondered. Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Philosopher, spoke about a character which he called the ironist, a purely negative character that would not posit anything but only negate. He would undermine the present state of things bringing a crisis to it and out of this crisis, a new paradigm would emerge, establishing itself as the new standard. The ironist, however, had no idea about the new paradigm; he didn’t propose or expect it, he was only aiming at bringing about the crisis, undermining the status quo; he was merely destructive. That is technology. It shows the points of lack and omission in the current educational system, pointing out what is wrong, but do not propose a viable solution; it is now the role of the University to plan a new structure to support these findings. Once a paradigm has been undermined we cannot go back to it anymore, we must face its shortcomings and seek a new model. When technology progresses we cannot ignore it, we must appropriate it, make it ours and progress from that point. There was an epoch when calculations were done by hand by people. When electronic calculators came about there was no point in ignoring it by fear of losing the job, people had to make use of it and improve their roles. Likewise, Universities must not hold on to their current state but embrace this new advance making good use of it.

The time has passed when the retrieval of information was hard, time-consuming and expensive; when the teacher was the sole bearer of the content and of information about where to find the content. Which books should you read, which authors are doing the best work. It is hard to search that through books. You had to go to class and get the most of what you were getting there, because you were not able to get it anywhere else but with your teacher in the classroom. Then the internet came and gave access to content to everyone. Not only during a lecture, at any time; not only at university, anywhere. Information was finally within everyone’s reach, but the internet still didn’t provide the means through which people could assimilate the knowledge contained in this information, that is, it didn’t teach the content that it made available. It is as if you were given loads of parts and told that now you can build this incredible robot, but no one would give you an instructions manual. You had the parts but you could never accomplish building the robot. That is the relevance of MOOCs and the way in which they are revolutionary; they bridge this gap; they introduce an effective way to teach people the content that was made available to them. It can teach at any time, anywhere, teach well and in an engaging manner.

So will they at some point replace universities, then? Well, with great powers comes great responsibilities. Professor Susan Holmes, from Stanford University, said: “I don’t think that Online Courses can give you a Stanford education just as I don’t think that Facebook can give you a social life.” (How free online courses are changing traditional education., 2013).  To answer this questions we must understand that a university education is much more than just a collection of completed modules. More than inculcating knowledge into a student’s head, a university aims to provide a liberal arts education that will form a critically thinking person, someone able to write and express himself well It presents students with a new environment, that of academicism and research. For undergraduates, for example, nowadays it is a pivotal part of their lives that represents the coming out from underneath the parents’ wings and making the first, or final, steps towards independence

It is thus clear that MOOCs although excellent at conveying information cannot emulate the social aspects of Universities. We must see that for universities the impact of MOOCs is not their evacuation due to a stampede to online courses; the impact of MOOCs is the impact of their methodology. And that is the main point of my presentation; that the impact of MOOCs consists of the popularisation of their methodology and what it can accomplish. This is the point where technology was disruptive and undermined the former state of things. It now requires a new teaching paradigm. Why would I have to commute to a place to hear someone soliloquizing live if this could be recorded so I watch it anywhere I want? Why pretend that we still live in a time where there is no other way to convey this information other than telling it to me in person? Now there are good, effective ways to convey information online, sometimes better than in person. Videos intercalated with questions; lectures in pieces of about 10 minutes to avoid loss of attention; courseware available 24hours. The University must embrace and appropriate these methods and understand that they are very good at conveying information but also that this information is not relational. Asking questions, for example, is not good in online learning. Universities must find ways to strengthen the social aspect in classroom time, the interrelations part of learning. To call people into a room to give a one hour monologue is not good enough anymore. Making lectures available online will require classes to be better thought through and lead to better teaching (Rakera Tiree, 2015).

Dr. Ramesh Yerraballi and Professor Jonathan Valvano in a video from the course Embedded Systems - Shape The World, another excelent course,; this one from EdX.
Dr. Ramesh Yerraballi and Professor Jonathan Valvano in a video from the course Embedded Systems – Shape The World, another excelent course,; this one from EdX.

The integration of those technologies is inexorable, as time passes standards grow higher and higher and anything below those standards will sooner or later stop being tolerated. The University of West London is adopting some of those technologies already such as 24 hour access to courseware through Blackboard, access to classes online with UWL Replay and I had one module in which content revision consisted on the completion of courses on Codecademy. Thus this methodology will penetrate through academic teaching and a better use of time will be accomplished with a transference of knowledge that is more effective, having the shortcomings of online education, such as assessments and the social aspect, being supplemented by the university’s physical resources. There is still a lot of room for improvement in the usage of online tools and the format of the classroom. Partnership with companies that offer MOOCs should be considered envisaging to offer additional modules online and thus create a more diverse and diversified curriculum.

It is now responsibility of the University and its lecturers to build a solid way to integrate this fantastic tool into academic teaching, recognising that in a time of continuous improvement, things will never be the same again.

I would like to read some words of Karl Marx on the revolutionising of production, but that fit very well with the evolution of teaching:

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. (Marx and Engels, 2005)

As new, more effective and efficient ways of doing things are proposed, the unsettledness of change may corner us into preferring the stability of the good old fashioned way of doing things. But we must not be afraid of change, as it will happen regardless of our fears; and even if we try to ignore them, they will be back.

I would like to end on the note that the issue under discussion must not be misunderstood to be that of distance education versus classroom education. The Open University has shown the feasibility of quality distance education already. It is ranked as one of the top 5 UK universities in student satisfaction and in the latest Research Assessment it was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions with 14% of its research as world leading. (“The Open University,” n.d.)

Bibliography and References

Chen, X., Barnett, D.R., Stephens, C., 2013. Fad or future: The advantages and challenges of massive open online courses (MOOCs), in: Research-to Practice Conference in Adult and Higher Education. pp. 20–21.

Daniel, S.J., 2013. Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility [J]. Open Educ. Res. 3, 006.

How free online courses are changing traditional education., 2013. . PBSO News Hour.

Johnson, D.D., LeCounte, J., Valentin, C., Valentin, M.A., n.d. The Origins of MOOCs: The Beginning of the Revolution of All At Once-Ness.

Levine, A., 2013. MOOCs, History and Context [WWW Document]. URL https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/04/29/essay-nature-change-american-higher-education (accessed 5.8.15).

Martin, F.G., 2012. Will massive open online courses change how we teach? Commun. ACM 55, 26–28.

Marx, K., Engels, F., 2005. The Communist Manifesto. Filiquarian Publishing, LLC.

McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G., Cormier, D., 2010. The MOOC model for digital practice.

Milheim, W.D., 2013. Massive open online courses (MOOCs): Current applications and future potential. Educ. Technol. Mag. Manag. Change Educ. 53, 38–42.

Rakera Tiree, B., 2015. The Implications of MOOC in our course.

The Open University [WWW Document], n.d. . MOOC List. URL https://www.mooc-list.com/university-entity/open-university?static=true (accessed 6.29.15).

Vardi, M.Y., 2012. Will MOOCs destroy academia? Commun. ACM 55, 5–5. doi:10.1145/2366316.2366317

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The Impact of Massive Open Online Courses on the University Curriculum

So, What’s The Way To Decide?

I’m moving to another country in three weeks. Everything I accumulated during 20 years will have to fit in two 23 Kg suitcases and a 5 Kg handbag. I will leave a lot of stuff behind. But do you know what is the best thing? The best is that I could use just one of the 23 Kg ones and I would be happy. The most precious things I have are my books, my guitar, my Buzz Lightyear toy, the photos and songs in my hard drive and the picture frame my girlfriend gave me. If I can take that with me I will be satisfied.

I always thought that what gives value to people are qualities they would still have if they were naked in the middle of the desert. Be rich, have good taste for clothes, play well the piano, drive like Speed Racer. These are things that can impress a lot of people, but who are you when there is no wealth backing you up or status drawing a line between you and them, or no audience to regard you as a credible person?

Actually, that’s quite unfair. People have great qualities that can shine only when there’s something else in the scene. Like a good talker, a good negotiator, a good writer or good listener. These are qualities many people, myself included, seek to learn, and they can add value to the bearers lives and to society, but invariably need the presence of things (like other people) to have value.

People very often create a set of expectations over a subject, and then, after that, they create a prejudice.  People want to get in shape, they hear they have to do exercises, they see that people sweat when they exercise, and then they think that if they are sweating they are exercising. That may seem like a dumb example, but we actually do that much more often than we think.

When we draw that kind of silly conclusions we are trying to define the content of something by looking at its form. It’s like fever! Fever is not an illness. When you go to the doctor he doesn’t say “yeah man, you got a Fever, take this ice cube”. That’s because fever is the by-product of a real problem. You can almost assure that if someone has some specific illness, then this person will have fever. But it would be foolish to state the opposite.

Well, that’s exactly what we  do when we invert form and content. And when a huge group of people, sometimes our whole world, have this wrong perspective, we tend to believe that’s the real deal, the truth (remember your “whole world” is everything and everyone you know, not more than that).

Warren Buffet cites Benjamin Graham’s advice in his biography:

“You’re neither right nor wrong because other people agree with you. You’re right because your facts are right and your reasoning is right”

Benjamin Graham

Based on these prejudices, people often-times look more to the form than to the content of some stuff. Here is my top ten list of form-content inversion and an attempt to explain how it happens.

Relationships – Undoubtedly the most recurrent topic in young minds — and not so young too. People have defined relationships in their heads with what happens in relationships instead of with what really is a relationship. On internet you see a bunch of images of people hugging or kissing, with a sepia effect and a moving phrase; all of them supposedly showing how a relationship should be like. And then, when it’s time to have a relationship, the girl assumes the “role” of the girlfriend and the boy the “role” of the boyfriend. From friends to boyfriend and girlfriend they have a drastic change in behaviour instantly. The girl feels she should ~behave like the girlfriend~.

That’s adopting the form of the thing, Mimic the movements of someone else, someone else’s experience. Relationships should be spontaneous! You don’t have to act like that just because that’s the way couples do, you should act in a way that makes you feel good; not focusing the form of a relationship but its content, its meaning.For example, a form-oriented couple and a content-oriented one walk on the street. Both are walking hand on hands with their respective partner. One couple thinks: “we have to change our facebook status, we have to spend more time together, we have to watch romantic films in the theatre; we ought to do all that cuz that’s what a couple does”. And the other one thinks: “I’d love to tell everyone that I found you, ill change my facebook status so people will know it faster; It was so good being with you, I can barely wait to see you again; Hey Star Wars episode VII is out! how about we see it instead of it’s boring romance competitors?”.

One is guided by what they want to do, and the other one by what they think they should do. Well, not surprisingly, the wrong interpretation brings along problems. This flawed conception creates undue fears like insecurity. A good example of a content and meaning-focused instead of form-focused film, is undoubtedly “When a Man Loves a Woman”. What a great film!

The thing is that some people see relationships as a structured model they should adapt to if they want to partake of its feelings banquet. When in fact, relationship is just a name for what happens when two friends like each other so bad they would like to kiss. If your partner is not your best friend, then that can be a big warning that maybe you are living the form-focused paradigm.

Religion – Needless to say that the conception people have of religion is wrong time and time again. Even religious people sometimes can’t get this one. And the worse thing is when someone tries to explain the subject to someone else and either makes it more confuse, or explains it wrong.

I’m a Christian. With Christianity the idea is simple, there’s a book that states some values, we gotta follow that. Some people ,attempting to bring more people to think alike, build big places and gather great amounts of people. Nothing wrong with that; actually, that’s the idea. But people are used to routines, and when you are dealing with other people there must be order or else you won’t get anywhere.

The problem arises when people are so worried about the routines and customs, and they come from so long ago, that people forget the real purpose for which the habits were adopted. Then they start to think that the customs are the real thing, and forget about the values. And that’s what generates the bunch of controversy we see everywhere. And that’s how they invert form and content.

Formal Studies – I’ll go straight to the point: Formal Studies are overrated.

People go wild when they hear this, but that’s the ugly truth. They get pissed off in front of such a statement because if they did’t go to University they at least want their children to go. And they don’t really think about all the pros and cons of  choosing to study or not . But that’s a discussion for another post, let me focus on the  inversion.

Nowadays a graduate degree is almost essential. There are specifications on whatever your mind can imagine. That’s very different from 60 years ago, when superior studies were not only uncommon but rare. With the increasing demand, the Universities’ supply augmented but the quality of the new players were not exactly the best.

Once that two people doing the same job have different salaries if one of them has a degree and the other hasn’t , people begun to look at graduate studies as a degree instead of a place to learn to do something. As our world grows more and more capitalistic, people little by little lose sight of the idea of creating something, and replace it with a desired salary.

It is when the degree is regarded as more important than the own knowledge acquired that the content has been substituted by the form.

Advices and Advisors – Who do you listen to? When you hear an advice, what is the criteria of evaluation? Sometimes we get pretty bad advice from respectable people. Sometimes we can be well advised by some atypical people. Sometimes advices come well constructed and beautifully worded, but nonetheless wrong. And sometimes they come clumsy, but worth a listen.

The problem with this discussion is that everything depends on the person. Maybe you think that “Live fast, die young” is a good life philosophy. I’d certainly not agree with you, but we would be stuck in a dead-lock. But there is something in common between the two outlooks, and it is how we decide if a advice is good or bad for us. I’d like to highlight more the “for us”, because an advice is not inherently good or bad. It is good or bad for you. And your goals and your life expectations are the criteria to decide whether the advice is useful or not, for you.

“Don’t ever lie, to anyone” can be an excellent advice, this advice can make your career advance fast as you win a good reputation. But if you want to be an infiltrated agent in a foreign army, you will probably die if you follow this advice.

But we don’t have to go this far to find an example, simple and common sayings like “work a lot” or “get married, have children and buy a house” can be good or not depending on our goals. There are also advices that don’t really favour our goal, but show that perhaps we are treading the wrong path. That change our core ideas. And these are usually the most important ones. Because if you are heading to a cliff it’s better to change the way before you get there.

And here’s where it gets tricky. You are hearing someone saying that what you think is inherently wrong and that you should think differently. How do you decide who is wrong, if it is you or the adviser?

The inversion of form and content enters the scene here. When the way the argument is exposed matters a lot, and it can cloud the real consequences of believing it. Like the little child in a poor neighbourhood who is approached by a gangster, at his eyes a successful guy. And then the gangster conveys distorted values to the kid, and shows the life and the world as they are seen by him, a viewpoint he firmly believes is the only one right, and teaches the kid to behave in a way that leads to a cruel path. How can the kid ever go against such a convincing argument? He will grow and then at some point in his life he will be told the contrary. Maybe by someone who doesn’t look as successful as the gangster, but someone who understands that the values the grown kid now stands for are wrong. And he will have to weigh that. The form might not be pretty, but the content should not be ignored.

But again, that’s just my opinion. I think that a gangster is not qualified to educate someone to live in a fair, just and moral society. Even though our society is not like that, we should act as if it were. Because as long as we behave selfishly we will have a selfish society. But you might think otherwise anyway.

In the end we understand that to weigh advices’ contents we must have not only a set of goals, but a set of values. So, then you are able to separate the form of the message from its content, and are not deceived by its appearance. Now, philosophy has some great theories on that and I won’t go on into this subject now, the purpose here is just to stress the important difference between form and content in advices and advisors, and to point out the inversions that commonly occur.

If you would like to know more about society’s values I strongly recommend this video:

Is God Necessary for Morality? – William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan Debate

Shelly Kagan in the debate “Is God Necessary for Morality?” with William Lane Craig

Material things – Well, with stuff it is very simple, you pay a lot for something that isn’t really worth that much. And I’m not talking about paying for the design, I’m talking about paying for “reputation”.

Entertainment – I’m deeply disappointed with latin-american TV, the idea of adding value to society and being a mean of conveying information and healthy entertainment is lost. All you see are shows prepared to keep hypnotized fools. They show things that may attract us, but by no means are beneficial to us.

I loved to watch a show called Castelo Rá-tim-bum. It was great, I loved the characters, the people who were invited as special guests, it was  a great show. The great thing about it, although at the time I didn’t realised that, was that it showed the reality I, as a Brazilian kid, was used to seeing. It was produced by a channel called Tv Brazil — a far from popular channel. All the other channels with their audience explosions showed fake scenarios with fake people doing fake things. It was always a big and beautiful house with blond kids, and that’s definitely not the reality of 99% of Brazil. Castelo Rá-Tim-Bum showed barefoot kids playing in the street in many of their songs.

Besides showing my country’s reality it also transmitted a very good message. It taught kids the importance of taking a shower, importance of friendship, games to play with your friends and even taught how some things worked. Now I look at the “series” — that in fact are soap operas with teen sluts — that my sister watches on Nickelodeon and everything I can think is: Oh my God, my sister’s brain is being shitwashed. The series teach lies, deceiving, a lot of bad behaviour, stubbornness and selfishness, besides teaching how to be a teen slut too.

All the values are lost in this example. Now, I’m not saying there were anything like the ‘good old times’  were values were important and bla bla bla. No! As I said before, the channel that taught good things was an unpopular channel. Trash is being transmitted by mainstream channels since ever. I am also not saying that today there is nothing that provides good entertainment either. Disney-Pixar films like Toy Story, Nemo, and Brother Bear are here to prove that.

Form and Content – People can even mix up form and content. Let me be clear, form is not bad. It is not bad to look at the form of something, the form is part of the whole. The problem is when a product, or a person, or a situation, or whatever, is accepted just because of the form. And that’s what was happening in most of the situations above. But wouldn’t it also be bad if we chose stuff just because of the content?

The form is the way the content looks like, or the way it is transmitted. Now, imagine if I’m a super genius and I will give you a class. The things I will say will blow your mind, but I will give this class for 19 hours straight. I will have no dynamic at all in my speech, there will be no break and you will have to be standing the whole time.

Will this class be good? You will probably enjoy the first 30 minutes, or even the first hour, but after some time the situation will be unbearable. The content is still great, but the form is bad. So, the class, which is the combination of both, is bad.

Nowadays people think that it’s cool if you have something that no one else has. Some people try to run from the mainstream. “Oh it’s a great band, they are sooo underground, it is just a guy and a recorder, the guy never had a singing lesson in his life and has no talent at all, but he’s sooo deep”. “Oh this film is slow, ugly and has terrible acting but what a good plot!”.

Things are made of form and contend, if one of the two is missing, value is lost.

Books – I have a bit of a controversial opinion on books. You see a bunch of people everywhere bragging about having read a book before seeing it’s film, or bragging about being passionate about reading. That by itself has no sense! It is not because the trash you are consuming is written in a book that it will magically turn into wisdom.

People think that the fact that they read, no matter what, makes them intelligent in some way; not only intelligent, but more intelligent than those who don’t read.

The flaw in this conception is the widely spread prejudice that the form, a book, is by itself enough to make the content valuable. That’s a fallacy. Reading does have inherent benefits; it improves your grammar and — that’s highly dependant on what you’re reading — gives you better text interpretation skills.

Hence, although reading has intrinsic advantages it does not guarantee that you are getting smarter as you read; actually you could get dumber if you read some stuff.

People – This one is easy, you look at the person and judge her right away. It’s not your fault, it is an instinct, everyone has it, and it’s in you for a reason. The reason is protection. For the same reason our mind is set to consider any kind of secretion and excrement as disgusting and nasty, so that we don’t get close. It is set this way because these things can be harmful to us, and if we didn’t think they were nasty we would probably eat, drink, or have some kind of contact with these stuff, and then we would get sick.

Our brain works almost the same way when it comes to people. It’s a defence mechanism. We are programmed to accept people who have more in common with us more easily. That’s why there is racism , that’s why you see poor against rich, women against men, nation against nation, and so on. We are prejudiced by nature. But that’s obviously not an excuse. We are also violent by nature, polygamous by nature and jerks by nature, and that doesn’t mean that we are fated to act like that. We grow in a civilised society and learn to control our instincts. That’s why we are the ones pastoring sheep, not the other way around.

You judge people the moment you see them, but that’s not the problem here — that can even be a good thing, you should use you prejudices to guide you in a first approximation to the person. The problem arises when you think that your first impressions are right. And that’s when you invert form and content.

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I’m sad to say that I lied about the top ten, as you can see there’s only nine items in the list. But that can be your homework. What do you think has an inversion of form and content?

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As for my trip, I firmly believe that my 23 Kg suitcase, in spite of its clumsy way, will hold a far bigger value to me than its form can reveal.

So, What’s The Way To Decide?