The first text I read to provide myself with some background and perspective on online education in the USA historically and with a glimpse to the future is Collins, Allan (2009). Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. Teachers College Press.
The authors of Rethinking Education don’t discount the value of a liberal arts education but assert that “school fosters just-in-case learning while technology fosters just-in-time learning….”
Basically, the authors state that we are in the midst of a Knowledge Revolution that will change the future of education with school becoming less and less the venue. Because of the constant changes in workplaces due to technological advances, “workers may spend their whole lives learning in order to survive in a changing workplace.”
According to the authors, learning how to learn and learning how to find useful resources are becoming the most important goals of education – and this does not mean memorization but rather analysis, critical thinking, evaluation – all higher order thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The authors write that education should and will be geared more toward what learners want to learn; thus, learning will be more engaging because students will be more in charge of their own learning.
Here are some of the ideas presented in the book, which I find fascinating, regarding how education may change in the future:
- Whole new education system will be formed, evidenced by the growth of homeschooling, workplace learning, distance ed, learning centers, software.
- While elementary schools will continue as is because they provide childcare and early socialization, in the upper grades, there will be a return to training for careers through apprenticeships in hybrid-ish. Students will study content online and occasionally attend centralized learning centers for hands-on training. Students will learn by doing. Because learning will be more self-paced, students will decide when they are ready to take an exam.
- K-12 grades will no longer be defined by age – students of mixed age groups will learn from older people/adults at the learning centers.
- There will be national credentials – students would earn performance-based, certificates. These certificates would be more narrowly focused than a high school diploma, thus allowing students to get jobs more readily out of high school or college because they will have specialized training with the apprenticeship model.
- Students will be able to earn a number of certifications, and different careers/majors will require certain certifications. Students study for these certifications at their own pace. Students will be able to customize their education to their particular career interests, needs, and abilities, giving learners more control of what, how, and when they study. Certifications will be developed in three areas: academic skills, generic skills, and technical skills.
- Although there are some negatives for this new educational system, there will be universal access to education through the Web (as we see already a bit with Kahn’s Academy and MOOCs).
In November, I saw the movie Interstellar (two thumbs up, by the way) with my 11-year-old daughter. After the movie, she had to explain to me about worm holes, black holes, and the fifth dimension (all of which I still don’t get). Where did she learn about all this? In school? Through a class assignments? No, of course not. She has an interest in space, and so she researched on her own online. Did she memorize? Of course, a bit, but her explanations certainly were not verbatim – she paraphrased and put into layman’s terms (for me, having such limited knowledge on the topic) because she had been able to read and watch sophisticated materials online which appealed to her interest, on her own time, accessing the materials any time and perusing them at her own pace.
It seems to me that anyone with motivation and aptitude can teach themselves almost anything for free online. He or she just needs to know how to access the materials and to evaluate the authenticity, relevancy, and credibility of the sources. “School” will be where students meet up to get clarification/guidance from teachers on what they have studied, learn to learn, and work on soft skills (such as teamwork, people skills, negotiation, display of a positive attitude and good work ethic).