“Doctors will never move away from paper.” Working in healthcare, I heard that phrase said many times. It was true until it wasn’t. The move wasn’t spontaneous, though…they needed to be incented by carrots and sticks provided by first the American Recovery Act and then by the Healthcare Reform bill. The unthinkable happened because the incentives made it happen.
Flying home from Paris today we sat next to a Harvard professor that teaches presentation skills. He was remarkably knowledgeable about how to reach people effectively. He showed us samples that surprised us and started our heads spinning. Once you see education done well using technology, there’s no going back.
What if education…
What if education could be fundamentally changed by the way we teach? The professor showed us how five minutes done well can convey more information and meaning than fifty minutes of droning instruction. He showed us his actual class lessons done with video embedded in Apple’s Keynote. It engaged us visually and mentally. The presentations made connections in our brain that no one can talk you into.
Despite new teaching tools like electronic whiteboards and computers in classrooms, learning hasn’t fundamentally changed from where it started eons ago. We still put an instructor in front of a class, talking through ideas while students scribble notes. Maybe they type. It is an industrial-age throwback. It is a factory approach to learning that becomes less relevant to the skills required to survive in the real world, where information is always at your fingertips and adaptability and creativity are the truly valuable prize.
But the incentives would need to show up. As it stands, changing a venerable profession won’t be taken lightly. Beyond teacher’s unions and red tape, there are generations of people who’ve contributed to our society based on the systems that were in place when they ‘came through’. It is very hard to give up what got you there.
But what happens when the geography of delivery completely changes as well? What if it doesn’t have to occur in a small or large lecture hall and doesn’t need to be in-person.
We can start small. The Khan Academy shows us that there are approaches that change the paradigm and can be delivered anywhere. Rich visual images help students, “Learn almost everything for free.” Their goal isn’t to replace the traditional classroom with revolution, but with evolution toward a new way of learning.
Khan Academy’s site lists their vision as:
We’re a small team trying our best to improve the way the world learns. Too many people around the globe don’t have access to good education materials, or they are forced to learn through a system that doesn’t properly cater to their individual needs. We think the technology exists today to fundamentally change this, and we’re trying to build the tools and resources every student deserves.
Khan Academy isn’t the only way education will be disrupted, but it is an early effort to foster change. As our new professor friend told us, education needs to be brought into the real world and made relevant for every kind of student.
When incentives reward modernizing education, we can move toward better ways to educate. Those incentives may need to come from government as they did in healthcare. Without mandates (and funding) from outside it may take a while yet.