I recently returned from the first ever Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools (OESES) conference in Southern California. Overall a pretty good conference, and on a topic that all schools need to be looking at seriously as they plan for the future. While I am interested in the topic of online education, and I think that it is important to stay abreast of the latest developments in all learning spaces and trends, what I was struck most with was my aversion to thinking about online education as the disruption that education needs to move to bring it to the next level of efficiency and efficacy. I’ve actually been meaning to write this blog post ever since reading Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson. The premise of the book, and indeed of the conference (Michael Horn keynoted) is that online education is the growing disruption that will — and needs to — alter the heart of our education systems. I disagree. Of course, online learning, and computer adaptive learning, and all of these tools will surely be a part of education and learning going forward, but they are not to my mind (and using the terminology of Disrupting Class) the “disruptive innovations” that will alter the heart of education and “save” it. Rather, they threaten to be sustaining innovations that simply move a broken pedagogy of learning from meat space to online space without changing the part that is broken. To my mind, the disruptive innovation that will change education is the movement from relevant (at best) to real. Simply taking AP U.S. History online does not make that program a better program. Recreating the siloed knowledge and cram-and-regurgitate structure of much of our education system into online space does little to move education in the direction it needs to go. What our children need is to explore their world in meaningful ways, guided by expert learners who can help develop the critical skills necessary to be able to adapt and thrive in a world of wicked problems and ever-changing knowledge spaces. Of course, this needs to be done using important content as the bricks to build with, but the idea that simply cramming this content into heads via the computer is going to change things significantly for the better is worse than mistaken, because it will take much-needed resources away from looking at the real problem. Yes, let’s continue to look at how online learning develops, and how our institutions of learning can leverage it for our students, but let’s also look at how we can create opportunities for our students to use technology in ways that extend out of real need as they solve real problems.
A virtual fist bump here to Jenifer Fox, whose session at the conference was a breath of fresh air. Jennifer is head of school at The Clariden School of Southlake, and author of Your Child’s Strengths: a Guide for Parents and Teachers. In her session, Jenifer painted a fiery, revolutionary vision of children learning the skills and content they need to know and have experience with by engaging in real problems and projects with real impact on their community. Go Jenifer!
I have been convinced for a long time that the needed revolution in learning is not more efficiency in the current dominant pedagogy, but rather a move toward the real. This conference only reinforced my feelings on that subject. The revolution is Real.
For another post on the needed paradigm shifts in education, see Teaching without Knowing, and Finding Problems to Solve.