Thursday, January 14, 2010

Train Coming

In a recent post, Will Richardson references Allan Collins and Richard Halverson’s new book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, and cites a review of that book which says

Allan Collins and Richard Halverson’s compelling argument for rethinking education may be encapsulated thus: We are not going to fix education by fixing the schools. They are a 19th century invention trying to cope in the 21st century…If schools cannot change fast enough to keep pace with the advances in learning technologies, learning will leave schooling behind. Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology urges education stakeholders to envision a new kind of education that decouples learning and schooling.
This is a topic that has been on my mind for some time. Last year, as I was reading Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, I ran across a jarring projection:

The result of these four factors — technological improvements that make learning more engaging; research advances that enable the design of student-centric software appropriate to each type of learner; the looming teacher shortage; and the inexorable cost pressures — is that ten years from the publication of this book, computer-based, student-centric learning will account for 50 percent of the "seat miles" in U.S. secondary schools. Given the current trajectory of substitution, about 80% of the courses taken in 2024 will have been taught online in a student-centric way. (102)

I've seen other estimates that by the year 2016 half of all high school courses taken for credit will be online courses. Now, I don't know how exactly these estimates were arrived at, or how accurate these projections will turn out to be. But if the estimates are even marginally correct, we in the brick-and-mortar world of education are in for a real revolution. It seems to me that there's a train coming down the track, bearing down upon us and threatening to flatten us, but we've got our backs turned to it and our earbuds on and we don't seem to see it or hear or or talk about it much.

Last night at my school we had some visitors from San Diego's High Tech High doing a presentation to local private school heads and board members, and one of them, Ben Daley, was the first person who I have heard say out loud what I have been thinking. The main difference was that my metaphor was a freight train, his was a tidal wave. And he joked, in all seriousness, that a year ago those people who did pay attention to this prediction laughed at it as being unrealistically overestimated, whereas now the people who are laughing at it are doing so because they think it's unrealistically underestimated.

If it's true, if it's even possible, that in five years, or ten years, students anywhere in the country will be able to create their own courses of study and sign up for credit-bearing courses online, then the obvious question is "What are they going to need schools for?" Thinking about "a new kind of education that decouples learning and schooling" forces us to think about pragmatics as well. Why would students bother to show up for school when they can study at their own time at their own pace at home? Why would parents want to pay upwards of of ten or twenty or thirty or even forty thousand dollars a year for private school tuition when their students can learn on their own for a whole lot less? What will the proper function of a school be when it is no longer necessary for students to attend schools?

There are answers to these questions, but I'm not hearing or seeing them being articulated. So maybe that's something I'll work my way around to somwhere down the line.

Image via Glenbourne at Home on Flickr.


Will Richardson said...

Hey Bruce,

Thanks so much for reading. You're asking some very relevant questions. It will be interesting, at the very least, to watch and see how all of this plays out.



John said...

When I see these predictions, I wonder. Are schools of education preparing teachers to teach this way when the professors don't know how?
I teach ESL students and they are required to be in a physical classroom 9 out of 12 of their required hours in college in the U.S. Will this change with the fear of terrorist attacks not abating very much?
Most of my colleagues seem to see technology as a threat and many of them will still be here in 10 years.
My daughter took an online course and said it was boring, but then the professor was supposed to be boring in class also.
I like many of the ideas of students creating their own learning and see my son doing this occasionally, but his education of this sort seems unfocused and tends to change as his moods change. So I wonder about model of students designing their own classes.