Fascinating debate on the merits of online education.
Flipping the classroom has received a lot of press, thanks, in part, to the popularity of Khan Academy. The basic premise of flip teaching is simple: video lectures are watched at home and homework is done during class time. Proponents of flip teaching say the advantage of this model is that students can apply the knowledge they learned during the video lesson in class by solving problems in an interactive group environment. The teacher has the opportunity to work with differentiated groups and can more easily tutor students at their own pace and level. This interactive pedagogy converts learners from passive note-takers into active teachers who have to explain their understanding and ideas to their group and the teacher. By some estimates interactive learning can triple students gains in knowledge.
Check out a flip video one of our science teachers, Vivian Byun, created below.
The MIT Sloan School of Management offers a variety of free interactive management simulation tools designed to help students learn about commodity pricing, the solar photovoltaic industry, sustainability issues, and the video game industry. These simulators have participants leading the respective industries. The goal of all simulations is to bring an experiential aspect to learning about complex systems. Sloan Professors state that these simulations have more impact than simply listening to lectures or engaging in a case study discussion because these tools require applying knowledge in a dynamic environment.
I recently read about Eastman Kodak’s rumored bankruptcy: “The year hasn’t been kind to Kodak, which has suffered massively from photography’s transition from film to digital….” I can’t say I’ll be very surprised if they do declare bankruptcy: their industry was severely disrupted by the introduction of digital photography, and despite their previously dominant position and early work in digital, they have not been able to adapt successfully—corporate Darwinism, I suppose.
Their troubles remind me that my industry (secondary education) has entered its own period of massive disruption with the introduction of online learning. Just as digital cameras were clearly inferior when they were first introduced, online learning is clearly inferior to in-classroom learning… so far.
However, just as digital photography first made in-roads on the fringes, so has online learning. The Flex Academies, offered by K12.com, would probably not appeal to many families who send their children to independent prep schools which sit at the top of the secondary ed pyramid. However, I believe the Flex Academy concept, which provides an adult-supervised, safe place to stay while parents are at work, combined with a self-paced online curriculum, will appeal to many families for whom independent education is out of reach.
K12.com initially offered online curriculum for home-schooling, so we see that the concept of online education is already moving up the pyramid, and is currently at the second or third level. As online technologies improve, become more interactive and engaging, and as K12 and other online curriculum providers experiment, learn, and solve the problems with their approaches, this climb up the pyramid will continue.
How long before it reaches the top? For my own sake, and for the sake of my colleagues at UHS and other independent schools, I hope a good, long time—but we would be wise to anticipate this disruption before it reaches us, and to recognize it for both the threat that it represents, as well as an opportunity. I’ll write more about online learning as opportunity in a future blog post.