Online learning is efficient, flexible and future-oriented
In the traditional classroom, a teacher sets the pace for student learning and requires all students to learn the same thing, at the same time, in the same place. The primary teaching method is lecture, making the teacher the center of learning.
When online learning is done right, it can be more efficient, flexible, and future-oriented than the traditional classroom.
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Current technology allows us to “flip” the classroom. Students are not limited to learning from teacher lecture, but can benefit from high-quality, multi-media learning tools readily available online. Content can also be recorded and delivered to students on demand, allowing students – rather than teachers – to control the pace. The online classroom facilitates student collaboration across geographical boundaries. The teacher’s role can shift from being the center of all learning (“the sage on the stage”) to being the mentor who facilitates student inquiry and individual progress (“the guide on the side”). When current technology is matched with powerful methods, student learning becomes far more efficient.
Restrictions that are part-and-parcel of traditional education fall away with the introduction of technology. Students have more learning options and more control over how they learn. Technology allows for more consistent and meaningful accountability mechanisms, freeing up mentors so they can focus on individualizing projects and assignments. Mentors have more resources at their fingertips, so they can find new and innovative ways to generate more student excitement and interest, making learning more enjoyable.
Online education prepares students for a competitive future. Business, economics, education, and community are becoming increasingly virtual. Every day technology takes more and more things “online.” At the same time, the ability of youth to develop and maintain offline relationships becomes more and more critical. Project-based online learning arms students with knowledge and tools that allow them to thrive amphibian-like in both online and offline venues. They develop a strong online presence, and a positive offline influence. They fluidly move between technology and nature, capable and confident in diverse venues.
What about the personal touch?
Does online learning sound cold and mechanical? Don’t worry. We used to think about it that way too, before we realized what can be done online. It’s important to remember that brick-and-mortar classroom experiences can be personal and uplifting or mechanical and lifeless. That depends on the teacher, the students, the curriculum, and the culture of the school. The same is true online. While a mentor can’t physically pat a student on the back online, she can see, hear, and understand the student. Also remember that one-to-one time is precious, and infrequent, whether it’s a teacher in a physical classroom with 30 kids who all want attention, or an online mentor with 30 kids who all want attention. The mentor’s time and attention is a precious resource. And online learning, if it’s done right, leverages the mentor’s time so that the time she spends with students is concentrated learning time.
It’s time for education to evolve
Every day new technological devices flood the market; new tech ideas pop up online; and cutting-edge research moves us closer and closer toward what was once impossible. Online learning is leading to more effective methods of sharing and acquiring knowledge. And we’ve only begun to see what it can do. This is as big a shift as the move from the one-room schoolhouse to the Industrial Age factory-school. In the early 1900s our current education system was born as a response to the need for more skilled factory workers, and fewer agricultural workers. In the past 100 years our society has seen significant financial, political and technological shifts, however, our education system has remained surprisingly unchanged. Part of this makes sense, because at the end of the day what students need to know hasn’t changed that much. Reading, writing and arithmetic are as pertinent as ever. But part of this is mind-boggling. The potential for individualized, self-paced, customized, affordable education is at our fingertips.
Technology & education
We still need many of the same skills humans have always needed, but the way we attain these skills is changing. Have you ever sat in a math class where some students were tracking with the teacher, others were left behind, and still others were bored because they “got it” five minutes ago? We call this the lag problem. Online learning can drastically reduce, and in some cases eliminate it. For example, if students learn their math individually, using tutorial videos, interactive practice problems, and rigorous assessments, they never need to wait for other students, or be left behind. They can watch an instructional video three times in a row if that’s what they need before they understand. Or, they can skip right over the video if they already know the skill being taught. Then students and mentors can spend time applying math concepts, and learning about why math matters.
Technology can deliver effectively, change rapidly, and cater individually. Combine this with personal touch and something magical happens. And yet for the most part, educational institutions plod slowly along, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Technology has received a slow welcome where it has an incredible, unique potential for impact. Together with many other educational entrepreneurs, we are working to change that.