Saturday, April 6, 2013

Arthur Godfrey, Marshall McLuhan and the educational topic of the day

There's a great quote from Arthur Godfrey which, unfortunately I'll have to paraphrase from memory. Godfrey, who was, by some standards, the most successful broadcaster ever, said his informal, intimate style came from the realization that radio personalities in the early Thirties talked as though they were addressing a roomful of people but most of the people who were actually listening to the radio (rather than talking to each other) were by themselves.

Godfrey was perhaps the first major broadcaster to think about broadcast media in the modern medium-is-the-message sense. This understanding extended to television as well. In the late Forties and early Fifties, Godfrey was the dominant personality of that medium as well.

Of course, in 1931, all recorded and broadcast media were fairly new. Now we've had about a century to think most of this through. Even Understanding Media is almost fifty years old. We have fully internalized the idea that different media are... different. No one but the hopelessly naive would suggest that what works in a play would work in a movie or that what works in a movie would work on TV or that what works on TV would work on the internet.

Except in education. Pick up the New York Times and you'll find not one but two Op-ed columnists whose writings about MOOCs aren't just pre-McLuhan, they're pre-Godfrey, and Friedman and Brooks are no worse than most people covering the topic.

We have decades of experience in educational media and distance learning. If we build on that we have the opportunity to revolutionize education. If we ignore it, all we're likely to do is enrich hucksters and waste students' time.

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