Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
DISTANCE LEARNING!
By Steve Fair

Clay Christensen is an economist and teacher who coined the term- Disruptive Innovation- to describe the process that a product or service takes in moving ‘up market’ to displace more established, conventional competitors. He believes that ‘distance learning’ will eventually replace conventional education institutions, much like discount retailers(Wal-Mart) replaced conventional retailers(Sears). Christensen says when established institutions pursue only ‘sustaining innovations’ that perpetuate what has historically helped them succeed, they unwittingly open the door to ‘disruptive innovations.’ He maintains that ‘distance learning’ is one of those ‘disruptive innovations’ to conventional education.
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‘Distance learning’ is not just for college students According to a December 2009 report by a seven member Oklahoma legislative task force on ‘Internet based instruction,’ http://www.oksenate.gov/publications/issue_papers/state_govt/ok_iitf_final_report_2009.pdf 2,500 fulltime Oklahoma high school students are taking their high school classes completely online this school year. That’s up from 1,100 students last year- an increase of 163%.
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The task force cites Christensen in their report. In his book, Disrupting Class, Christensen says, “We anticipate that most of this on-line learning will occur within the schools. Teachers will be supervising, tutoring, helping and mentoring these on-line learners. Many of the activities in today's schools that provide important lessons in socialization, learning how to work with others, behaving responsibly, and so on, will continue to be done. But of the instructional component of the work in our schools, the trajectory suggests that 50% will come from on-line sources, rather than a teacher in front of the classroom, in 2019.”
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The legislative task force concluded that "we should strive to provide the best educational
experience for each student based on their individual learning styles and needs. While online learning will never replace traditional classrooms entirely, it does provide for the needs of many students to accelerate or broaden their learning experiences, as well as provide opportunities for credit recovery for students who have fallen behind."
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The legislative task force’s conclusion is much like the response that Sears had to Wal-Mart. Sears refused to recognize the ‘disruptive innovation’ the big box retailer brought to the marketplace until it was too late. By stating, ‘online learning will never replace traditional classrooms entirely,’ the task force displays the same na├»ve mindset of Sears. If Christensen is right that most learning will be via the Internet in ten years, then it is reasonable to expect that five years from then- 2025- the majority of formal education/learning will be via the web- from home. That’s right- homeschooling.
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Homeschooling is not a new concept. More than 2,500 years ago, Alexander the Great was taught ‘at home’ by Aristotle, who was trained ‘at home’ by Plato. Many of our early Presidents and national leaders were ‘home schooled.’ According to the US Census Bureau, over two million school age children are homeschooled in America, with that number growing at a 15-20% rate annually.
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This ‘distance learning’ presents a challenge to conventional education. According to BYI professors, Drs. Scott Howell and Peter Williams in their thesis, “32 trends affecting Distance Education," “Faculty members tend initially to try to use their conventional classroom methods to teach at a distance and then become frustrated when attempts are unsuccessful.” They also say the faculty tends to resist the change to online teaching and feel isolated. Teachers also want more money to teach classes via the net because they spend more time on their distance courses than they do on traditional courses.
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Higher education will need to train teachers proficient in written communication as well as verbal. The on-line educator will also need to be able to have strong computer skills and be less subjective and more analytical.
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The trend in distance learning could present traditional common public education with a dilemma. First, in the foreseeable future, the bulk of the educational dollar will not be spent on buses and buildings, but on bright innovative teachers who are technologically savvy. There will be less students in the classroom and more on-line. Both student and teacher will work from home and the hours of instruction may be flexible. The current model of buildings and infrastructure will be replaced by technology.
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Second, with children being ‘home schooled,’ parents would logically take more equity in what their child is studying. The options for parents in texts and courses could be more diverse. Parents may elect to procure a curriculum consistent with their educational or religious philosophy instead of using their taxpayer provided text. With the ‘start-up’ costs equal to the conventional educational institution, the options for a child’s education will be increased substantially.
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President Lincoln was our first ‘poor’ President. Before he was elected, virtually all the Presidents were fairly wealthy men with formal educations. Despite his humble beginnings and no formal education, Honest Abe had a thirst for knowledge. He is widely considered to be one of our wisest Presidents. Lincoln loved to read and would read Shakespeare by candlelight as a young boy.
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Who knows- perhaps a future President will boast they read Aristotle at home by the light of their LCD computer monitor.

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