A good analogy for our school system is this: schools are to education what landline phones are to telecommunication.
Landline Phones and Telecommunication
Landline phones were the dominant form of telecommunication for nearly a century, and have provided convenience for almost every American family. Over time phones gained new features such as speed-dial, conference calling, caller-id, and an answering machine, and had all the core features needed to promote basic telecommunication. Still, telecommunication was far from all it could be. Its potential was limited by the dependence and restricted mobility of the person using a landline phone.
With the advent of mobile phones – and later smartphones – the field of telecommunication was changed forever. Smartphone technology has unleashed the potential of telecommunication. Smartphones are becoming more advanced and powerful all the time, and thousands of new applications are being designed for smartphones every day. Yet, despite these advances the use of smartphones remains simple and intuitive.
No matter how we try to improve landline phones, is it not evident that the future of telecommunication lies somewhere else?
Schools and Education
Just like landline phones for telecommunication, for nearly a century our school system has provided education for a large segment of the population. Undoubtedly, schools are a great convenience for parents, who don’t have to be troubled with – or otherwise don’t have the resources for – providing education for their children in each particular subject. Instead, school curricula provide all the instruction needed to promote basic education.
Yet, despite reforms and increased funding, student performance remains poor. Schools are limited in terms of the subjects they can offer, and they cannot keep up with the advances of the globalized economy. This means that schools have become a significant burden on students, without giving them much benefit. Going through the system can no longer guarantee success in the 21st century (see post Why Our School System Is Broken). Change is desperately needed. But if we want a genuine improvement in education, we must at least address the following key issues:
- Education is not a one-size-fits-all process
- There are many ways to learn one subject or concept.
- Education should not be limited to the classroom or to school-time.
- Students do not all learn at the same pace
- Teaching is not just a talent, it’s also a skill set
- A teacher is not always needed
- Quality education does not have to be expensive
- Education should not be limited to the few subjects in the school curriculum
- Education should not be a dull, repetitive, and tedious process
- What we learn should not be determined by politics, religion, or narrow interests
- Parents must have a role in the education of their children
- Tests do not reflect proficiency
- Education should not be just about the grade
- Education does not start in elementary school, it starts at birth
- Education does not have to be coercive
No matter how we try to reform the school system, or how many new subjects we add to the curriculum, the current school system cannot adequately address these issues. Our school system is simply too rigid to sustain the changes needed in education. What we need is a new approach to education. What we need is an Education Revolution.
The new and revolutionary approach would:
- Take all the issues presented above into account (also see post 15 Misconceptions About Education)
- Take full advantage of the information age and the latest advances in technology
- Make education a positive and enjoyable – yet challenging – experience
- Make education an integral part of our culture, and as natural to children as the use of computers
- Take education from the hands of government and institutional bureaucracy and put it in the hands of parents, students, and educators
- Create a viable multibillion-dollar market that will promote high quality programs, large investments, and steady innovation in the education sector
- Make a profound improvement in our children’s education
While these goals might seem unrealistic or overly-ambitious, I believe that they are entirely achievable.
Re-Creating the Education Experience
We need to remember that education is an experience. Education starts at birth. Babies learn and practice to crawl, walk, and talk. Children are driven by their sense of curiosity, and want to pursue whatever is enjoyable or interesting to them. If this requires them to put effort into learning new things they would readily do so. However, if the process of learning appears overwhelmingly difficult or tedious for them they may decide to abandon their quest. This is why we must create a new platform where children, parents, and teachers can interact to promote and facilitate the education experience.
Virtual Education Hub
What will the new platform be like? The platform won’t be tied to any physical institution or site. Instead it will be based in the virtual world. This will allow teachers, parents, and students to conveniently access the platform from anywhere. One of the benefits of an online platform is the creation of a community of parents, students, educators, and people interested in improving education from all over the country.
While the platform will be based online, this does not necessarily mean that the education experience itself will also take place online. However, the platform will facilitate interaction between teachers, parents, and students, and improve the education experience.
The Education Hub will have a Learning Center, and two distinct sections: for Teaching and Parenting.
The Learning Center is at the core of the Education Revolution. The purpose here is not just to provide all the tools necessary to promote success in education, but more importantly to transform children’s education into a fun and exciting experience. This means that in addition to functionality, the Education Hub will have a simple and intuitive interface, and a great design.
The education experience starts when a student decides she wants to learn something. This could be anything; learning history or chemistry as a conventional semester-long course, learning to play guitar, or how to wrap a present.
There are many ways to learn a subject. When a student looks for a particular subject through the Hub, it will show all the options that are locally available for her. Depending on the subject, some students learn best in small groups, others learn best in a classroom setting with an instructor, others learn best one-on-one with a mentor, still others may learn best on their own. A student may prefer to be in a classroom setting to learn one subject, while for another subject she may prefer to learn on her own. The Learning Center will let the student choose the program that fits her best.
Class: if she decides she wants to learn in a class, she could easily enroll in one through the Education Hub.
Mentor: if she prefers a mentor, she could also find one through the Hub.
Online learning: not all subjects can be found locally. This should not deter the student from learning what she wants, and how she wants it. The Hub would make finding an online class an effortless process.
Study group: another option is to learn with a small group (with supervision for younger students). The Learning Center would make finding partners, joining a group, arranging a convenient meeting time and location, or creating a new study group a simple task. In addition, the Learning Center would provide all the necessary resources to make learning in a small group a worthwhile experience.
Self-education: sometimes a student may want to learn a subject at her own pace. It is important to promote curiosity and self-initiative in children. Besides, for some subjects self-education can be comparable to or superior to a more structural form of learning. The Learning Center can provide all the resources needed to guide the student in pursuing this path.
In addition to the programs that are offered in the student’s community, there are countless education videos, articles, books, and other resources scattered all over the internet that she can find. But how can a student tell the educational value of these resources?
Reviews and Ratings: the Education Hub will take full advantage of the information age. All learning programs and resources will show comprehensive reviews and ratings by state and local school boards, experts in the field, and students. This will provide educators with the feedback necessary to improve their courses or programs. It will also ensure that learning programs deliver better content, are more engaging, interesting, and challenging, and are of a higher quality and educational value. The Learning Center will also show which learning programs and resources have the highest ratings or are most popular (locally and overall), and recommend programs to the student that are based on her interests.
Portfolio: instead of following a rigid school curriculum, the student will have a virtual portfolio with all the learning programs she followed (and received credit for). The Hub can then recommend to the student – based on the guidelines of state or local school boards – subjects that are essential for her education. Since there are many ways to learn a subject, the Hub will conveniently categorize learning programs according to the standard branches of study they cover. This way a student can be competent in all the essential skills and subjects, while following the learning path that interests her most.
The Hub can also note the prerequisites for each program, and verify if these were met by the student through her portfolio. This way students can learn and advance at their own pace. If a 4-year-old can read well, there is no reason to hold her back for another 2 or 3 years. Through the Hub she would be able to develop her talents, and choose more advanced learning programs.
Progress report: one tool that can promote more effective interaction between students, teachers, and parents is the Hub’s Progress Report. A teacher can identify the issues or concepts with which a student is having some trouble, and suggest what the student can do to improve – both in person, and through the Hub. The Hub can then visually present to the student an overview of the course, and pinpoint the issues that the teacher marked. This way the student knows exactly how well she’s doing in the course, and what she need to do to improve.
Learning anything, anytime, and anywhere: the Hub can make learning anything a fun experience, but education should also not be limited to the classroom or to school-time. Instead, a student should have the flexibility to learn any time of the day, any day of the week – and anywhere she likes. Thanks to the design of the Virtual Education Hub, and to advances in computer and telecommunication technology, this could be a reality. Computers are already an integral part of our culture. Putting a tablet computer such as the iPad – loaded with the Virtual Education Hub – in the hands of students would make education as natural to them as the use of computers.
So far we have talked about taking advantage of the information age to improve learning programs and resources that are already available online and locally. Now let’s talk about how we can realize the full potential of information technology, and transform children’s education into a fun and exciting experience.
While the current selection of online resources is quite impressive – from countless educational videos, streaming university lectures, articles, and collaborative projects such as Wikipedia and open-source – there are still relatively few high-end learning programs. The greatest impediment to progress in this area is the lack of a cohesive market.
Even though there are over 55 million K-12 students and over 14 million college students in America, there is no sense of there being a market of students. This means that education entrepreneurs need to devote a large portion of their capital into targeting customers. The result is that they are less likely to make investments in the education sector.
Creating a market: the Education Hub will create a student market that will be modeled on one of the best success stories of recent years – the iPhone App Store. With over 300,000 applications designed for the iPhone, some estimate the App Store market to be worth nearly $2.5 billion per year. Just like the iPhone App Store, the Education Hub can create a multibillion-dollar market for interactive education programs.
Online university courses: many top universities are now offering free online courses. Yet, publishing each course with video online can cost a university over $20,000. Clearly, the current model is simply unsustainable, and that is why the selection of courses is very limited. With the formation of a large student market, universities can develop a more sustainable model, and offer a much larger selection of courses online. One option is to offer free courses with advertising, yet another option is to offer courses for a small fee. The next step could be offering online enrollment and credit for courses (with adequate testing for proficiency).
Interactive learning: interactive education could be the most exciting emerging industry of the next decades. Many of the subjects taught at school could be moved from the classroom to the living room. There, children can play and learn, either in a group or on their own. The idea is to blend the lines between film, video games, and education. The current state of computer-generated imagery in film, and artificial intelligence in video games is simply mind-blowing. Through collaboration among educators, experts, screenwriters, film directors, and video game designers, it is possible to create an interactive education experience that is engaging, challenging, and exciting for children. With the emergence of a student market, the prospects for interactive learning are especially bright.
Of course, students who prefer a more plain education experience will have that option in the Hub as well.
To summarize: the Learning Center will transform education into a fun and exciting experience. It will let children learn anything, anytime, and anywhere. It will provide all the tools necessary to promote success in education, such as a virtual portfolio, reviews and ratings, and a progress report. It will also create a multibillion-dollar market that will promote high quality programs, large investments, and steady innovation in the education sector.
There are also two more distinct sections to the Education Hub: Teaching and Parenting.
We have to remember that education is not just about the few subjects children are taught at school. Education is also about developing character, cultivating talents, expanding possibilities, and enriching the life experience. Parents can play an important role in the education of their children – from
before birth and on.
Resource Center and Support Forum: the Parenting Resource Center and Support Forum can offer useful advice and resources for parents.
The Support Forum can help parents with the challenges that arise at every stage of child development, from infancy to adolescence. Parents can talk about their own experience in raising children, and ask for advice from other parents that face similar challenges.
The Parenting Resource Center can offer resources on anything: cultivating children’s talent from a young age, promoting personal responsibility, self-esteem, healthy lifestyle, engaging children in reading, and so on. All these resources can be rated and reviewed by the community, so parents know which methods are most popular and effective.
Though having mastery over a subject is necessary to be a good teacher, it is not enough. A teacher must also be able to communicate the subject well to students, challenge them, and engage them in the learning process.
When a subject seems overwhelming or difficult, the role of the teacher is to break it down into more manageable parts. When learning a particular skill requires the mastery of more basic skills, the teacher needs to anticipate this, and make sure these skills were mastered. And when a particular area seems dull or frustrating, the teacher needs to think of ways to approach that area in a more engaging way.
The teaching section will provide all the tools necessary to promote excellence in teaching. These will include a resource center, support forum, and course development tools.
Resource Center: the teaching resource center will be similar to the student Learning Center, only its focus would be to assist teachers in the education process. This means that it would have videos, articles, books, and other resources to help with instruction. But it would also have ideas and suggestions on the best and most effective ways to teach specific concepts – in any field of study.
Support Forum: in addition to having access to high quality instruction tools, teachers will also be able to talk about their experience and discuss any challenges they have in the Support Forum. The forum will be organized by academic subjects, instruction topics, and general resources. If a teacher needs feedback on a particular issue, other educators in the same area of expertise, or with similar experiences, can provide support.
Course Development Tools: the purpose of course development tools is to make teaching a less complicated process, and contribute to a better teaching experience. Course development tools will include a lesson time-line, and will allow teachers to plan their lessons, organize lecture materials, and easily incorporate multimedia in the lessons. These tools will allow teachers to review each lesson separately, but also have an overview of the entire course plan. The course development tools will also allow teachers to make comments on previous lessons, and note which parts of the lesson were most successful and which parts need improvement in the future.
Call to Action
So how do we bring about the revolution, and what can the government do to help?
The beauty of this revolutionary idea is that it doesn’t have to go through government bureaucracy, or even require a large investment. All that’s necessary is to design and develop the Virtual Education Hub interface, and to ask government to throw its support behind the program.
Once students, parents, and teachers join the Hub, the newly created community (and market) will do the rest.