Saturday, 16 April 2011

Fast Forward to the Coming Revolution in Education

About 15 years ago an old friend and I had a telephone conversation after not having spoken for a few years. At the time I was working in IT and he in Educational Publishing. I can distinctly remember having a bit of a mini rant on the subject of the lack of adoption of simple technology in education. At the time I was talking about using low cost video-production equipment for creating course-material.

I said something much like this:

'Why is it that every day thousands of teachers around the country stand up in front of a class-room of school kids and deliver a 'lecture' about some subject they are teaching?. It's the same 'lecture' they delivered last year, the year before and the year before that - so often they don't do it with any great enthusiasm. Occasionally a great teacher gives a great 'lecture', does a brilliant job of explaining and ignites a kid's mind. But. Most of the time the teachers cranks out another lesson and the kids sit there uninspired and bored waiting for the end of the lesson... Why doesn't the education system just find the best teachers in the country for that piece of information, stick em in a room until they come up with a superb way of delivering it and then video it?'

It was a very simple idea.

As it turns out a few years later a guy in the USA called Salman Khan stumbled across the same thing and started creating video pieces and posting them on the Internet - he did it to help his cousins learn various academic things.

Fast forward a few years and the Khan Academy now has over 2,000 video pieces and whole range of tools to help students and teachers use them in the most effective way. Here's a video of Salman Khan explaining how the whole thing works and the extraordinary results it is achieving:

If you ever thought about the challenges in education then I don't think you can watch this video without thinking ' Wow! at Last!!'

As Sal explains, essentially this approach flips the work that would conventionally be done in the classroom and the work that would be done at home. Instead of teachers spending lots of time 'lecturing' and marking tests, instead the kids watch the videos at home (or in designated places in school) and then spend the lessons  actually being taught. i.e. the teachers can spend time walking around helping individual kids understand things that they are 'stuck' on.

Teachers cease to become broadcasters and test markers and can actually teach, and kids can learn at their own pace - because if they don't understanding something they can just watch the video piece again. And because with this model every kid can learn at their own pace, and be at a different stage if necessary, they don't hold up the whole class...

But surely this means that a huge gap opens up between the slow learners and the fast learners? i.e. some kids wind up having a mass of knowledge and others very little...


The fallacy in that thinking lies in the idea that some kids are simply 'slow learners' and others are 'fast learners' - as though they are genetically programmed like this or have superior or inferior brains. And this is the piece I really love because it overturns what I think is the most horrendous self-limiting belief and repulsive prejudice in the education system currently.

I absolutely detest hearing teachers refer to kids as slow learners as though they were mentally disabled - that's just so unfair to kids and if they get told it enough, they believe it and thus it becomes true.. they stop trying to be good at some 'thing' they are told they can't be good at. The consequences can be devastating if that 'thing' is 'learning' itself.

Here, the evidence overturns the prejudice.

As Sal explains in his video, what they discovered with this way of learning, is simply that kids who had been discarded as 'slow-learners' just spent a little more time in the initial stages and then zoomed ahead. In other words the thing that made them slow-learners was not some inbuilt limitation but instead just missing building blocks in the learning process.

With Sal's material the kids could just go back, watch the relevant video tutorial and grasp the foundation concept and then be back on track and start blasting ahead.

This is now in the early stages of being rolled out in schools in the US and, I suspect, is set to have a massive impact.

Someone needs to start generating UK content for a similar system fast...


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