Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Distance Learning, Cyber Schools, and the Future of Education?

In a paper written in 1999, Roger C. Schank and Kemi Jona make some interesting predictions about the impact that online learning will have on our education system. It's suprising to me how relevant these predictions seem now, almost 10 years later.

Here's an excerpt that really gets to the heart of this vision:

"...traditional academic courses are no longer going to be taught by local teachers. The computer will allow the creation of learn by doing courses rather than learn by telling courses. The computer will allow the designers of these courses to be the best and the brightest in any given field. Moreover, these courses will be very engaging, non threatening, diverse, and fun. Once the very best physicists in the world sit down and create a physics course, there will be little use for local physics teachers....The same will be true for every academic subject and for many subjects that are not now seen as academically relevant. Companies will create courses and guarantee employment to those who pass them. Quality universities will put their names on these courses. This will create tremendous change for everyone involved in the education system, from students to teachers to administrators to government education agencies." [Full Article: Schank, R.C. & Jona, K. (1999). Extracurriculars as the Curriculum: A Vision of Education for the 21st Century. Forum on Technology in Education: Envisioning the Future, Office of Educational Technology.]

The basic premise here is that teacher's roles will shift from teaching academic subject to focusing more on social and interpersonal skills. Their role will become more of a "learning facilitator" than a direct conduit of information and facts. The role of school will also change in this scenario to become more of a social center where students participate in group projects and activities.

It's interesting to see the prevalance of distance learning options for secondary students that are popping up lately. For example, brightstorm.com has just launched a video-based learning portal.

The courses are delivered like t.v. shows in a very fun and engaging way. Each course is $49 for a 12 month subscription and all sorts of academic and non-academic topics are available. The site also offers student networking and the ability to apply creativity and technology skills to variety of student "challenges".

It definitely feels like a shift is on the horizon!

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Books on my reading list

  • A Whole New Mind
  • Designing the Sustainable School
  • Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning & Creativity
  • Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment
  • How to Grow a School
  • No Homework & Recess All Day
  • The World is Flat