Lots of interesting side comments come up during some curriculum discussions. At a recent meeting of the CS 2013 task force one of the committee members made a statement to the effect that maybe part of the problem was having to have courses. The comment was made (mostly I think) in jest but it really started me to thinking.
In general I think we have too many artificial distinctions in bits or knowledge. Or as we like to call them in school “subjects.” I first started to think of this in the context of math. After all algebra, geometry and trigonometry are all “just” math. But we have people saying that one is easy and one is hard but they’re all math. Where does the line between geometry and trigonometry fit? When does algebra end and linear algebra begin?
We face the same sorts of thing in computer science. Database and data structures? Can you have one without the other and if not where do you draw the line between them if at all? I could go on of course. But we do have courses. Why? Because it makes record keeping easy. Well its more complex than that but basically we have courses as much to make education fit into nice ordered compartments as anything else. In many ways I wonder if it would make for a better learning experience not to have courses at all.
This would require education to be more like an apprenticeship where people move at their own pace and pick up new skills and knowledge when they are ready for them. Or when they need them. It would be a holistic approach with fewer artificial separation between topics. Is it practical? Probably not. At least not the way we do education today. I think it would be better though. Of course I have no data and maybe it is all wishful thinking but it’s something to think about. What do you think? Do courses help learning or get in the way?