Choice, change drive education in the 21st century

August 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

Choice, change drive education in the 21st century

  • Dale Bernard

Today and tomorrow, education will be defined by change and by choice.

For many of us who came along at the end of the Baby Boomer generation it would have been impossible for us to imagine how technology and other innovations would shape our lives. Our purchasing, banking, communication, news gathering and business activities are defined by online experiences that didn’t even exist when we were growing up.

I grew up in a traditional brick-and-mortar public school system, but recently received an advanced degree delivered completely online from Oakland University. I would not have been able to get this degree if the only option was to attend a class in a building for three or four hours a couple of nights a week for two years. My schedule just would not have allowed it.

However, technology alone does not lead to an optimal education experience. Just having computers for students isn’t enough. Many schools lock up the computers in a cart at the end of the day just to have students drive to school the next day to use the computers again. I understand the reasons for this and current limitations, but having students drive to a location to use a computer is a lot like driving to a phone booth to use a cellphone. Yes, you are pushing buttons on the technology, but are you really using it in the best way? So, how are schools supposed to educate students in this fast-changing global landscape?

One key factor in educating students now and in the future is recognizing that technology has allowed for the individualization and customization of many aspects of our lives. People under 35 don’t rush home to see their favorite TV show just because it is broadcast at that time. They can watch it on their phone from wherever they are whenever they want.

Many younger people don’t wait for their favorite song to come on the radio. They select it from the several thousand songs on their iPod. Schools that succeed will grasp this “on-demand” modality and build customized learning experiences for each student. If history repeats itself, just as with online purchases and online banking, society will become more comfortable with online learning allowing for more customized learning in all environments: traditional, online and blended.

Blended learning is a recent innovation combining the advantages of face-to-face instruction for some classes while taking advantage of online environments for the rest.

Regardless of the type of school a student chooses, all schools will likely be striving for a more individualized approach to learning.

Technology allows for that. With advances in fields like psychometrics, learning programs will be developed for a specific student using unique narratives and metaphors to access the student’s background knowledge, activities to fit that student’s learning style, and even changing the color scheme and arrangement of the computer screen to fit that student’s optimal brain activity. So, two students could be at the same place in a course, doing completely different activities, with two different computer screens, sitting thousands of miles away from each other, but learning the same thing. These changes are coming.

The only thing as inevitable as change is the resistance to change. Those resistant to change often use an either-or fallacy to stifle advancement pitting models and ideas against each other instead of allowing them to co-exist to forge the best solutions and provide the widest range of options.

According to think tanks like The Clayton Christensen Institute, sustaining innovation is just as important as disruptive innovation for the overall health of any system. It isn’t a matter of traditional versus charter, or online versus on-ground. It is a matter of offering an array of choices that maximizes the learning for all students.

There are about 50 million school-age children in the United States. Asking any one model to be the best for all of them is not practical.

Even if one model could service 80 percent of students effectively, that would still leave 10 million students not receiving an optimal education.

We need choice now and choice in the future.

Dale Bernard is the principal of Nexus Academy of Royal Oak, a new blended learning public high school opening in September.


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