One of the best books I’ve read about initiating large-scale change in education is “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”. The authors summarize where the education field has been regarding its attempts to change, and then clearly lay out their proposal for the future.
Their argument is basically this: if we agree that students learn differently, then the monolithic, factory-based model of pushing kids through curriculum in batches we call grades is no longer acceptable. Teaching everyone the same things on the same day in the same way will not work in today’s world. Using this model, students have lost motivation and feel disconnected from school and its purpose.
Instead, education needs to become modular. Students should be allowed to assemble a learning plan that allows them to learn in a manner that fits best. The authors argue that this will increasingly involve technology that allows individualized, asynchronous learning and a teacher who no longer “stands and delivers” but instead serves as a facilitator of knowledge.
In the past, however, attempts at large-scales changes in education have always resulted in small-scale shifts because we’ve absorbed the ideas into our existing structure. NCLB, merit pay, classroom-based computers – all of these were attempted in the context of a traditional classroom setting with students expected to learn in the manner the teacher required. The authors of this book argue that in order for change to be disruptive, it must not confront the current situation head-on, but instead should begin in a separate dimension where there is little or no alternative.
For instance, if individualized, computer-based instruction were introduced in schools today the idea would most likely be seen as far-fetched, too time intensive, and threatening to teachers with little technological experience. But if the idea were introduced for alternative and home-schooled students, who currently have few options, it is much more likely to take off. Over time the program will experience success, the technology will become more sophisticated, and more traditional students, parents and even teachers will begin clamoring for it.
We’re already headed in this direction. Online classes and blended learning – a combination of face-to-face and online learning – are increasingly becoming the norm. I think we can all agree that different students learn differently. This is one way we can teach differently to reach them.