On Demand Education

circuit boardMany of us are old enough to remember when VCRs first became popular. Before then if you wanted to watch a movie you had to go to the theater or wait for it to show up on TV. Once VCRs got past the legal problems (The movie industry thought it would COST them money .. HA!) you could see a movie any time you wanted to. If there was a cool show on TV but you still wanted to go out someplace with your friends, all you had to do was program your VCR and walk away.(Yes, I’m looking at history through rose colored glasses. Our display was always flashing 12:00, I admit it.)

Nowadays we have Tivo and other digital recorders to do the same thing for us, only better. On top of that we have podcasts, RSS feeds, voice mail, and all other kinds of cool things that let us get our information when we want it, not just when it’s convenient for others.

That right there is the heart of this little spiel of mine.

You see, we can use this to our advantage in education. Imagine a school where every student is required to have an MP3 player. The teacher could record the lecture and / or supplemental information and distribute it to the students. They could listen to it while on the bus, doing chores, or even when playing their favorite video game. Students could make the time for education while doing other things as well, thus taking a load off of their shoulders.

Now I don’t think that audio should replace text entirely. Not all students perform well by being lectured to, just like not all students perform well by being given worksheets. Rather, I think it would be ideal to have the two elements combined, with one reinforcing the other.

Sound like more trouble than it’s worth? Not really. Most podcasts out there right now have corresponding “show notes” for each episode, including links, downloads, and more. If people can do this for a hobby, why not do this for a class? If each teacher had an RSS enabled blog, the homework, notes, audio recordings, handouts, JPG files of sample artworks, and anything else that needed to be distributed could be sent directly to the students. The students could even have their own blogs with which they could submit their assignments. Imagine: students could no longer use the “You never gave me that,” or “I know I handed it in, you just lost it,” excuses. One quick trip to the news aggregator would prove them wrong or right instantly. (Those excuses would have to be replaced with “I have a virus,” but that’s your own fault if you’re still using Explorer.)

Naturally this could invigorate distance learning programs, (I’m in one now as I’m enrolled in University of Phoenix’s online Master’s Degree program, but I think they could make a good program into a great program if they started using RSS and podcasts in addition to the newsgroups and email they already use.) but I can see this being used in the regular classroom as well. The only things holding us back are the lack of a 1:1 student/computer ratio (not including an MP3 player) and the inertia that keeps teachers from trying new things.

I know I’m not the only person who’s thinking along these lines. David Warlick, Steve Dembo, & Steve Sloan have voiced similar opinions. I’m just agreeing with them here.