Our Views: Pondering new learning

As a thinker about how ideas are born — and how they travel from mind to mind — Walter Isaacson is a man worth hearing. So we’re glad that a panel considering LSU’s future invited Isaacson to speak about the university’s challenges and opportunities as an institution of higher education in the digital world.

Isaacson, a native of New Orleans, is a former CEO of CNN who now heads the Aspen Insitute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. Isaacson is also the author of books about Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. He’s thought a lot about ingenuity and how it can be cultivated to drive innovation. With the increasing popularity of digital learning and the availability of lectures online, the function of a university professor has changed, Isaacson told LSU’s Transition Advisory Team during a recent meeting.

Now, students can watch a lecture on their own, then come together in a classroom for collaborative discussions in which the professor acts more as an interlocutor.

We’re glad that Isaacson stressed the continuing relevance of the campus experience, even at a time when students can learn much by pointing and clicking a mouse. “You wouldn’t have a true experience if you just sat in your bedroom and did it (all) online,” Isaacson said.

The Socratic method — named for the ancient Greek Socrates who taught students through active dialogue — is still a vital tool of instruction that usually works best in person, not virtually.

Like Isaacson, we don’t want to choose between online learning and the traditional kind. A good university of the 21st century needs both.