Rather Than Reinventing Education By Teaching A Million People At Once, Can We Perfect Teaching One Person At A Time?
We’ve written a few times about innovation in education, and I’ve pointed out that I think the real breakthrough opportunity is in figuring out ways to get “students” to teach the subject matter themselves. As I noted, it was only once I had to teach certain subjects that I fully understood them — because my students kept probing and asking more questions, which forced me to go beyond “just getting by” with my knowledge of the subject, and to dig deeper and gain better understanding. And it feels like there’s an opportunity to use technology to make that possible — and to somehow flip the equation, so that education is less about being “lectured” and more about students learning by teaching themselves and each other.
So, I found it fascinating to listen to a recent episode of economist Russ Robert’s EconTalk podcast, in which he spoke with economist Arnold Kling about the future of education, based on Kling’s recent article reviewing what educational technologies he thought were overhyped, and which really had a chance to change education for the better. In the discussion, they raise this same concept of learning by teaching, but the key takeaway was slightly different: it’s that so much of the focus on technology in education today is figuring out how to take a lecture or a lesson and distributing it much more widely to many more students.
You can understand, in theory, why that seems desirable. After all, if you can find the absolute best teacher of a subject, wouldn’t it be great to allow anyone and everyone to sit in on his or her lectures? But, of course, the problem with this scenario is that it assumes that it’s from the lecture that we learn — and there’s little evidence to support that across the board (that’s not to say that people don’t learn from lectures, but it may not be the key aspect of learning). Instead, Kling suggests, the true breakthroughs come from more personalized situations in which a teacher and a student work together though a problem.
And, of course, Kling’s optimism is in the idea that such customized and personal teaching may be more possible with technology today — allowing for more adaptive learning. But, for the most part, all the big stories we hear about technology in education seem to be about just reaching more people, and he worries that this is the wrong approach. From the article:
To put this another way, I believe that the future of teaching is not one-to-many. Instead, it is many-to-one. By many-to-one, I mean that one student receives personalized instruction that comes from many educators. To make that work, technology must act as an intermediary, taking the information from the educators and customizing it to fit the student’s knowledge, ability, and even his or her emotional state.
I do think that this doesn’t exclude those broad distribution efforts, however.
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