Visions of Greatness

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

There are some people that have extraordinary visions of greatness. President Lyndon Banes Johnson’s vision of a Public Broadcasting Service was one of those great accomplishments. Senators Barry Goldwater and Jacob Javits’s unrelenting support of Joan Ganz Cooney’s dream of television to teach young children has changed early childhood education around the world. Senator Ted Kennedy’s vision of distance learning through technology has opened the door to 21st century learning and teaching though Star Schools.

By 2020, most learning and teaching will be a blended experience of online and classroom courses tailored to the needs of each learner. Learning for the average student will take place at the home, the classroom and the workplace. Young and older workers may spend as much as one fourth of their time refining and improving their work skills on their jobs.

Access to high quality learning experiences will continue to expand to mobile devices. Management of learning will continue to increase as we are able to track learning progress by the student and to reinforce those areas where the learner shows weaknesses. There will be a cornucopia of online resources that can address the learner’s needs.

We are rapidly emerging into a world where all learners have their own mobile learning devices. Today not all such devices can talk with one another, but they are rapidly merging into universal systems. They all have voice, video and print components. Learners can contact deep sources of information and share their knowledge in teams with one another to meet certain learning challenges and produce solutions and products.

Learning is not limited to peer age groups. A talented twelve year old may in this new learning world interact with a senior scientist from NASA if she has the skills and knowledge to make such a contact or she may also pair with younger students and guide and mentor them through a given learning challenge.

The changes in learning and education are moving very fast. Consequently, it does not matter what the education community does — the technology will drive the future. Sesame Street and its offsprings in Ready to Learn have set the pattern for this new worldwide pattern of learning. Star Schools have pioneered distance learning for all.

The data driven information model used by Netflix can be expanded to a leaner model that tracks individual learning patterns and meets the needs of online learners. When learners in the new technology system are failing, mentors and live tutors will address specific problems. Using the new potential tracking system, learners who are falling behind will not linger in dead-end classes but have their needs addressed immediately.

We know that reading is an essential skill for all students. We also know how to ensure that all children learn these skills early and have mastered them from phonemic awareness, vocabulary building, and fluency to comprehension. Without reading and basic mathematics skills, higher order skills will not be learned.

The Challenge

We as yet have not completely developed the master data set that can track learners and match learners with the cornucopia of resources available in our modern world. We have elements of such systems but have not as yet fully mastered them. Our next major challenge is to conceptualize, master and build such a learning database. I emphasize learning rather than teaching base. Our new school system will be learner-centric rather than teacher-centric. For years we have been teacher-centric and our curriculums have been laid out in details of subject content. In a learner-centric system we examine the student and match the skills and knowledge of the students to the curriculum base. What does the science student know about gravity, what does she need to know, and what are the steps needed to allow her to reach a goal in knowledge about gravity? For example, if the student weighs 100 pounds on Earth, 40 pounds on Mars, and 256 pounds on Jupiter, what does that mean in terms of gravity? If I can throw a baseball 100 feet on Earth, how far can I throw it on Mars? Will it be less or more on Mars? Why?

Why is it inevitable that education will change? When inexpensive printed books allowed us to print textbooks, we stored skills and knowledge in them. This allowed us to create the modern school. America had the wisdom to create free public schools for all children, and they enabled us to lead the world in science, economics and democratic government. It gave birth to public schools for all. Today’s digital technologies move us one step beyond the egg carton school building. Bringing your own technology device to school opens a wide base for learner-centric schools that involves not only classrooms and libraries but also a wider world of information and knowledge.

We, the pioneers in digital technologies, will dream and design the learning experiences of tomorrow. The world is in our hands. The limits are only the blinders that may inhibit us from thinking new thoughts. It is our world to build. There are few limits to what we can make education become. All children can reach beyond today’s limitations and be all they can be. Every child has unlimited potential in our brave new digital world. It is our responsibility to see that they reach it. It is our responsibility to see that the teachers and resources are there for them.

One Response

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