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School & District Management Opinion

Picture Pages: The Original Toddler Proto-MOOC

By Justin Reich — January 08, 2014 1 min read

While there have been some efforts to trace the history of proto-MOOC distance learning efforts in recent days, in an attempt to situate the MOOC in it’s proper historical context (including, a rather bizarre effort by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology who wrote a letter to Obama about what to do about MOOCs (nothing! let the market sort it out) which traces the history of MOOCs and distance learning online without, um, mentioning the people who say, for instance, came up with the term MOOC), not nearly enough attention has been paid to Picture Pages, and the transformationally revolutionary disruptive opportunities that it portended in the “distance education for toddlers” space.

Picture Pages, for those too young or too old or foreign or without television access during the relevant decades, was a segment that first reached a national audience with Captain Kangaroo in the 70s but was then brought to the pinnacle of its form by Bill Cosby in the 1980s. Parents bought their pre-schoolers a workbook, and Bill Cosby showed them how to properly complete exercises in particular pages in the workbook, while saying things that sounded silly to children and were actually funny to adults.

In Picture Pages of course, we see all of the essential elements of contemporary MOOCdom: the witty direct instruction lectures from Cosby, followed by the more nuanced think-aloud lecture where he demonstrated the assignment, the worksheet where students could complete assignments, and the final function of the video as the answer key. As Cosby moved his special pen, Mortimer Ichabod Marker, there would be bleeps, blorps, and sound effects, so reminiscent of the now primarily visual cues of points, checks, and badging that we use to signal success on MOOC LMS platforms. Much more serious consideration needs to go into the use of sound in gamification and badging on toddler MOOCS.

Every so often as a child I’d catch an episode Picture Pages on TV, but my parents never bought me the workbooks, so I’d watch along seething with jealousy. Now we all have the workbooks, we all have the lectures, and we all have our own Mortimer Ichabod Marker.

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