This month’s Wired includes an article titled: The New Way to Be a Fifth Grader, which outlines how the Kahn Academy is changing education for schools and for individuals.
I think the simple idea of outsourcing lectures and doing homework in the classroom is powerful. Children listen to their iPods or watch TV or game, all of which could be used as input mechanisms for concepts and knowledge. Let them absorb as much as they can on their own time, which not only meets classroom objectives, but opens them to the plethora of resources they can employ throughout their lives to access new knowledge.
Application, however, is not always so easy. Translating a lecture into practical use requires guidance and wisdom. Those are two attributes that teachers posses. Bring the struggle of application to the classroom. I think this would also reduce the stress related to homework, offer opportunities for family learning (rather than family yelling about getting homework done. Imagine: Samantha, after Two and a Half Men, let’s watch that physics lecture together on YouTube) and increased retention because the struggle for application becomes a facilitated one.
And in all of this, it eliminates the issue of pace and individualization. Learners can learn at their own speed.
Of course, over time, this will mean that the traditional curriculum of, say 5th grade, will be a meaningless anachronism with the exception of a few students who magically hit a mean (those learners, however, might not be the traditional age of 5th graders). Perhaps this approach will start to beak down gates, and let children experience the magic of learning without worrying about what grade they are in. We can work the social implications of this dissolution of grades through emotionally coherent assignments for group tasks and play. Individual learning would no longer be constrained by curriculum, but empowered by permission. I think we should be creating permissions to excel in learning through empowerment, then we can probably drop the discussion about incentives and motivations – learners will learn what they need to, what they want to and what they perceive as necessary to compete. Unshackle learners and they will discover their own motivations.