In the early summer of 2016, I began researching a better way to supplement my children’s school education. Along the way, I have learned things about the field of education that simply blow my mind. Whereas much of today’s education resembles what I experienced some forty or fifty years ago (ahem), in which a teacher “brain dumps” information to a class room of note-taking students, it is now sailing toward a sea of change.
Technology advances are spinning education on its head and the good news is that our kids will be the big winners. Before too long (5-10 years), the highest quality education should be available to students across all socio-economic groups. Finally, education is poised to become the “great equalizer,” which we have always dreamed it would be. As some have put it, advances in education software and hardware technology are creating the “democratization of education.” Tough to wrap my mind around, but a system which hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years is soon to be transformed. So, what’s going on? Well, allow me to cobble together the highlights of what I have uncovered.
Most importantly, there has been a proliferation of mind-bending educational software. Students have countless online resources such that they can jump on their computers and begin practicing and improving their skills in every subject from 1st grade math to college trigonometry. Secondly, the advent of computer-adaptive diagnostic tests means that each student can be uniquely assessed. These new tests provide students with a more difficult question for every right answer provided and an easier question for every wrong answer provided, along a “giant decision tree” continuum, which makes every actual test experience unique. The diagnostic tests are then used to identify the student’s areas of academic strength and weakness in very specific, granular detail. Truly, today’s computer-adaptive diagnostic tests are amazing.
Next, there now exists a wealth of online education curriculum, broken out by specific subject, grade, etc., and which can be readily matched with a student’s academic needs. This means that academic weaknesses identified in diagnostics can be matched with online software which teaches to those weaknesses (gone is the need for endless and expensive textbooks). With computers and Internet connections, we are entering a new era of “student-centered learning,” in which the individual student (and his/her academic strengths and weaknesses) is at the center of the learning process. Educational software feeds the students learning curriculum based upon assessment tests (some of which are even in real-time, creating an ongoing “loop” of questions and answers which generate additional unique questions). Teachers then become facilitators, in which they roam the classroom, assisting individual students or students of similar abilities with their online lessons for the day. Of course, there is time for social interaction, collaborative work on projects, etc., but the individual student is able to learn at his/her unique pace – a quantum leap from teaching to the middle, or, in some cases, to the least capable students in a classroom.
Picture the future classroom (already reality in many schools across the country) which is filled with twenty-five students, twenty-five desks and computers and a broadband Internet connection. Throughout much of the day, each student works at the computer, which provides unique assignments for that student, while the teacher roams about, addressing individual and small group needs as they arise. Most likely, students are working to obtain mastery of certain concepts within a given subject. Because public schools generally teach to state approved Common Core Standards, students are required to master such standards prior to moving on to higher grade levels and more difficult standards. Rather than scoring As, Bs and Cs in their subjects, students may likely receive “mastery” of a given Common Core Standard or “not yet.” As a result, students may not be differentiated by grades (i.e. the A students from the D students), but simply by their cumulative mastery of Common Core Standards.
Computers and technology will never replace teachers, but they will enable teachers to teach with much greater efficiency. Educational software will do much of the teaching work, while teaching to each child’s unique needs. Teachers will spend more time with each individual student because they spend so much less time teaching to the group – a complete paradigm shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. Some experimental schools may have tried student-centered learning in the past, but it is only the exponential changes in educational technology which make this a viable reality today.
Software, the Internet and computers are on the verge of trans morphing the ancient field of education. You’ll never be able to sit Johnny down in front of a computer, come back ten years later, and find a Harvard graduate. However, you will be able to use technology (with teaching/tutoring assistance) and provide Johnny with a world class education – no matter where you live or how much money you make. Oh, and one last “ah ah” moment. I recently read that 70% of the civilized world is predicted to own a smart phone by 2020. Given that smart phones are becoming the computers of the future, it won’t be long before everyone possessing a smart phone will have access to a world class education – a pretty bright scenario, wouldn’t you agree?