One of the quickest ways an institution can fail in online learning is by trying to replicate the traditional on-ground learning environment. This mistaken approach disregards the strengths of digital technology and asynchronous modality. It’s like trying to turn a book into a movie without leveraging the strength of the visual story-telling medium. (See David Lynch’s Dune.)
The good news is that not all institutions are going down that path. Many institutions are doing great work in the online learning space, and the University of Central Florida could be considered a poster child for success. Late last year, Bill and Melinda Gates visited the UCF campus in Orlando (my backyard), and he had some positive recognition for the work going on there. His blog entry is worth the read.
by Hap Aziz
In an essay titled, “Death Knell for the Lecture: Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education,” Daphne Koller writes for the New York Times that by using technology, we should be able to improve student performance while simultaneously reducing the cost of a high-quality education. She introduces this idea by describing the 19th century agricultural industry and the associated level of food production (insufficient to meet all the needs of the population) as compared to the agricultural industry of today (producing surpluses of food). Her illustration focuses on how technology transformed the food production process, and how the education process has not likewise changed or advanced in the same time frame:
“The key to this transition was the use of technology—from crop rotation strategies to GPS-guided farm machinery — which greatly increased productivity. By contrast, our approach to education has remained largely unchanged since the Renaissance: From middle school through college, most teaching is done by an instructor lecturing to a room full of students, only some of them paying attention.”
Interestingly, I make a very similar point in my blog entry, “Practicing 18th Century Education in the 21st Century Classroom.” However, while I discussed the lack of any real ability to examine actual brain functioning during the teaching and learning process, Koller focuses on the idea that new technologies are providing methods by which educators are able to create more, as well as more specialized, instructional content, and that the thoughtful combinations and groupings of this content is better able to meet particular learning needs.
Koller’s essay is definitely worth the read, and I find the points she makes (especially regarding blended learning) to be compelling. Whether or not we will be able to “change the world in our lifetime” through the use of education technology, however, critically depends on our ability to change the culture of and long-standing practices of course and content development.