What is the Future of Teaching? And the rise of online education teachers

This blog is about the passions I have as a professional and as a person. Key in my beliefs is the fact that people have to learn to improve their effectiveness. For a long time the domain of teachers and so on, a shift is paramount. The found post from Josh Catone reflects on that shift. And indeed another tool may be deployed to increase the effectiveness at an organizational, departmental, professional or personal level.

Found at http://mashable.com/2009/08/31/online-education-teachers

August 31st, 2009 from Josh Catone

computer-learningAccording to the New York Times Bits blog, a recent study funded by the US Department of Education (PDF) found that on the whole, online learning environments actually led to higher tested performance than face-to-face learning environments. “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” concluded the report’s authors in their key findings.

The report looked at just under one hundred studies that compared the performance of students in online learning environments (or courses with an online study component) to those who were given strictly face-to-face instruction for the same courses. What they found was that students who completed all or some of their coursework online tested on average in the 59th percentile, compared to the 50th percentile for those who received only classroom instruction, and that the results are statistically significant.

Online Education on the Horizon

While the study certainly provides a vote of confidence for online learning, it’s important to note that it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that online learning is more effective as a medium than classroom learning. “In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages,” writes the authors of the report (emphasis theirs). “At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.”

In other words: all things are not equal. Students spending three hours per day in an online environment under the guidance of a great professor are likely, and not surprisingly, going to be better prepared than those spending an hour per week in a classroom with a mediocre one. And because the study’s results were correlational and not causal, it is impossible to say for certain whether it was actually the online learning environment that caused better tested performance. We can conclude that those in online learning environments tested better, but not necessarily why.

Further, the meta-study did not look at enough K-12 research to draw any conclusions — simply because it doesn’t exist. Researchers warned that “various online learning implementation practices may have differing effectiveness for K–12 learners than they do for older students,” which seems plausible. A major part of the job of a good educator is to equip students with the necessary mental tools to be able to continue learning on their own. Those skills are likely to be less developed in younger students, making face-to-face teacher intervention more necessary.

So while the classroom is ultimately here to stay, we can probably safely assume that there will be more use of online learning tools in the future. In that case, what might online education look like?

The Framework for Taking School Online

As part of their research, SRI International, which conducted the study for the DoE, constructed a conceptual framework of the different types of online education. They broke learning down into three types: expository (learners receive information via digital means), active (learners build knowledge by manipulating online tools), interactive (learners build knowledge through collaborative interaction).


Until recently, online learning has mainly been of the expository sort, essentially a traditional lecture format adapted for the web. But newer, social and multimedia technologies are allowing online tools to evolve to offer more active and interactive lessons. No longer is online learning just reading a module and answering questions — it can now include synchronous or asynchronous discussions and peer-to-peer learning exercises. As a result, online learning is becoming a more useful tool as both a replacement for and enhancement to traditional face-to-face learning.

The Teacher of the Future

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero. In it, I argued that online learning technologies and open source materials have the potential to drive the cost of a quality education down very close to free and provide access to learning opportunities for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. The post stimulated a lot of great discussion and debate.

Some people thought it was great that web technologies and open source and Creative Commons licensing concepts were enabling the playing field to become more level. Others accused me of advocating the closure of all schools (not quite what I was getting at), or that I was painting teachers as an unnecessary aspect of the learning process (for the record, my brother and my fiancé are high school teachers, my sister-in-law runs summer and after school education programs, and both my parents have worked in the public schools — I don’t want any of them to lose their jobs).

But that does raise a good question: what happens to teachers if more education moves online?


As it turns out, not very much. The word education, after all, comes from the Latin educare, which means, “to lead out.” I.e., think Socrates. Anyone can absorb information from a book or video, but good teachers will always be necessary to draw out that knowledge and help students develop the skills needed to think critically about the information they consume. In other words, online learning tools are just like any other tools in a teacher’s bag of tricks: what matters is how they’re applied. The instruction of good teachers will be made better by the proper application of web tools, while bad teachers won’t necessarily be made better by utilizing online education methods.

It comes down to knowing how to best use the tools at your disposal to maximize the impact of education for students, which has always been what separates good teachers from bad ones. The major difference between teachers of today and teachers of the future is that in the future educators will have better online tools and will require better specialized training to learn how to utilize them properly.


Teachers will certainly need to adapt in order to use new tools and methods, but that’s nothing new. Online education may never completely replace face-to-face learning, though as the Department of Education study shows, with enough time and under the guidance of a good teacher, online learning environments can produce results that are just as good or better than classroom learning. Online learning is likely to be used more often to enhance face-to-face learning in the future, however, and in communities where classroom learning is infeasible due to lack of funds, online learning is an adequate stand-in.


I recently talked to Shai Reshef of the University of the People, an online-only institution aiming to bring quality education to students, mostly in developing nations, for whom cost is a prohibitive barrier to traditional classroom learning. Reshef told me that his University really acts as a guide, helping people to organize the types of knowledge discovery and peer-to-peer teaching activities they’re already doing into a more formal program of study. And does the University of the People model still have room for teachers? You bet.

Even though most of the courses offered by the school can be completed without the intervention of a professor, teachers are still necessary to provide help and guidance when needed and to create courseware. In fact, over 800 professors from around the world have already volunteered their services to the University of the People.

For Reshef, online learning is a way to bring quality education to the masses. Teachers will always be a part of the equation, and online learning is just another tool at their disposal.

Read more at http://mashable.com/2009/08/31/online-education-teachers

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