How can online learning help to fill the inspiration gap left by our declining education system?
Motivating students to pursue topics that interest them. Shocking fact of the day: students learn much better when they’re interested and engaged. Online education allows individualized learning and experimentation in a way that traditional learning cannot. That means students have the ability to learn what they want to learn. Sure, sometimes you have to learn things that you don’t like – and that’s where the online model offers more advantages…
Providing access to passionate, inspiring teachers. Given that a good online learning system is theoretically able to cast a worldwide net in terms of attracting talent, students benefit from the ability to interact with the best professionals in their desired field. Passionate teachers inspire passion in students.
Creating a structure where grades and examinations are secondary to real learning. At Rukuku, we believe that grades and exams shouldn’t be a purpose in and of themselves. When one takes his own initiative rather than being nudged (read: forced) to take a class for a grade, actual learning becomes the priority.
Another bonus of online learning: none of those inspiration-killing standardized tests!
According to this infographic, the perceived credibility of an online degree is now nearly on par with that of a traditional one.
Photo Credit: (NASA/Robert Markowitz)
The space shuttle Discovery’s final voyage over the Washington, DC area (and over my head) Tuesday morning was a spectacular sight. Unfortunately, it was also a spectacular reminder of the declining emphasis on science and mathematics in the American education system.
Yes, the space shuttle program had many faults. Its fatality rate was alarmingly high. It probably even deserved to be ended – but its end serves as a powerful symbol of our muddled priorities. Over the years, the space program inspired many people to become science, engineering and mathematics professionals. So whatever your views on federal spending happen to be, it is telling when there is about eighty times more money allocated for military spending (most of it to support our increasingly bizarre nation-building and intervention in the Middle East) than for NASA.
This attitude trickles down to the school system. American students’ science and math scores have remained very stagnant compared to those of other developed, and even developing, nations around the world. The problem starts with teachers: we have fewer and fewer qualified and passionate professionals teaching science and math because the inspiration and the incentives just aren’t there. The few who do exist are not sufficiently rewarded by the system.
Granted, the United States continues to have a good environment for encouraging tech innovation – private sector technology titans like the late Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are ample proof of this. Sadly, we’re not doing a good job inspiring the next generation of innovators.
This week, our focus shifts to education in the “left-brained” disciplines. Here’s an infographic depicting some of the challenges we face in educating the next generation of tech innovators.
Looks like we've got work to do!
[IMG source: http://www.loveinfographics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/stem-professionals-dilemma-education-infographic.jpg]
How will online learning help to update our antiquated attitudes towards education?
Following directions vs. taking initiative. The very act of taking a class online is a major step forward in demonstrating an initiative to learn. A student who willingly takes a class that interests him/her is much more likely to succeed than one who feels he/she is doing so at someone else’s behest. The teacher-student relationship changes from a hierarchical one to a mutually beneficial partnership. Such an environment is far more conducive to taking responsibility for one’s own education.
Tolerance of discussion and questioning. With a varied market of services, educators, and classes, those who want to learn will be able to shop around and choose how they want to learn. Informed consumers who don’t wish to be handed a boilerplate no-questions-asked version of a subject – and we think most people who take the initiative to take a class are such consumers – will be able to select the type of instruction they want.
Allowing students, parents, and stakeholders to have a say in what should be taught. Because the student (and other involved stakeholders such as the parents) becomes the consumer, education providers have a serious incentive to offer the classes that are most relevant to the student’s needs. This simple market mechanism – the desire to benefit the consumer – is a serious deficit in public education.
Online technology is changing the conversation about how we ought to learn. We think this is great – every system requires occasional questioning and updating. Our education system needs it more than anything else.
Mark Twain once famously said the above words in reference to his experience in the American school system.
That was over a century ago. Would he still have said this in 2012?
The likely (and unfortunate) answer to that question is yes. The principles underlying the American education system have not changed significantly since Mark Twain’s time. We remain attached to a philosophy that:
• Values following directions over taking initiative
• Foists ideologically-laced information upon students without tolerating discussion or questioning
• Neglects young peoples’ natural desire to learn actively
• Prevents students, parents, and stakeholders from having a say in what should be taught
Granted, the United States is certainly not alone. That’s nothing to be proud of, though: along with most of the rest of the world, our students languish in a system whose basic attitude is stuck firmly in the 19th century.
Online technology holds the promise to be a catalyst for change in the thinking of the education community. Check us out on Friday for a discussion of how we can lead the charge in changing how we learn.