Why Online Learning Is The Future Of Education

Technology has changed the way we teach, so it should change the way we learn, too.

The media loves to talk about education, but no one seems to spend enough time analyzing the opportunities for change or conversation about it. There’s a lot at stake and what’s more, the internet is largely where it’s happening.

In my quest to understand where we are as a country and what it all means, I sought out two visionary high school mentors who are helping define the future of teaching and learning and hope to be an example of the changing world of education.

Rachael Erikson is a science teacher who taught in Bethesda, Maryland, and I read her moving new book on what we really need to do to inspire young minds and accelerate innovation in school. When it comes to attracting students to her classroom, she’s found a literal fit with her avatar, Kaitlyn, an interactive avatar who would fit right in next to her.

Back when Kaitlyn was only a feature of a textbook, the company building her spoke of her like this: “Kaitlyn is designed to encourage, enhance, and inspire young minds through her autonomous performance, as well as her interpretive genius, diverse and multilingual storytelling, and her singular ability to bring real-world concepts to life by interacting with the world.” What she does in a classroom is anything but everyday, but she’s become an invaluable tool in her young teacher’s toolbox. What other technologies aren’t as innovative as she, such as the classroom dress code of being able to store your shoe size? Teachers can ask questions of Kaitlyn with a simple button to a finger press and she’ll read it back for them.

All great high school lessons have a beginning, middle, and end but Erikson never shrinks from telling the story of her own journeys in high school and to see why. To find out what she went through along the way, she interviewed dozens of peers and teachers who knew her from her first day on the rowhouse campus of Prince George’s Community College and who told her the story of her high school years.

She writes with clarity and wit, inspiring anyone who wants to be inspired about their dreams for a life of learning and helping young people imagine their futures. As she puts it, “if you’re not motivated to be a great person today, then you’re probably the type of person who tries to cause others to think like you. Maybe it’s because you have an expectation that the way you see the world will make all other people look like you, or maybe you think that you have to be special to be somebody in the world.”

There’s lots in the media about artificial intelligence, computer science, virtual reality, and other new forms of computing technology that promise to disrupt our learning. Many have made the case that it’s not enough to sit in a classroom. Rather, the future of education demands teamwork between students, teachers, and classmates to help create and develop the things they love. I think what we’re going to see over the next couple of decades is more of a cottage industry of innovation and we’re going to need more hands-on teaching methods that bridge the gap between web and classroom, and take full advantage of the internet to reach the masses who are looking for more ways to learn and to create new kinds of thinking and to find community and purpose.

Jeff Hawkins, chairman and CEO of Zebra Technologies and creator of the first personal computer for home and business in 1981, is just as passionate about helping his students transform their own learning practices. Hawkins, who now goes by Aji, is developing free online curricula called The Turing Project with teacher Stella Link for high school sophomores in the United States.

His wife Suzanne Johnston came up with the concept, which uses robotics, coding, virtual reality, and gaming as entry points to a curriculum to help kids solve real-world problems. Students across the United States can develop complex programs that help them solve problems like generate heat and light, explore food crops, and build knowledge of geographic features in the real world. The content was designed to be helpful for high school sophomores and Link became an Executive Producer of the program.

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