The Way of the Future: Coursera

August 5, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Watch this video from start to finish from Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller as in right now:

I’m calling it- I think that we’ve passed Clayton Christensen’s inflection point where the disruptive technology (online learning) is better than the dominant technology (traditional universities).  The required mastery element that Koller describes in the video seals the deal by itself. I’m willing to bet that it is simply a matter of performing high quality evaluations and getting the results for documentation.

Second while most of the commentary on these developments naturally focuses on higher education, which is in for a major disruption, we need to start thinking about the implications of these developments for K-12. Coursera courses are available for free to anyone. K-12 students can take these courses, and other courses suited to various educational levels will certainly be developed.

What will schools look like in the future? I’m not sure but this is suddenly looking less like science fiction:

For a variety of reasons, I think that home-schooling will ultimately level off, albeit at a higher level than where it is today but well short of a dominant educational paradigm. Maybe at a much, much higher level depending upon how fast schools respond. The ability to collect credentials (which Koller mentions some higher education institutions already accepting for credit btw) seems likely to heavily nudge high-schools into allowing students to take Coursera/Udacity type courses.

Otherwise they seem likely to lose many students completely. Taking a high-school course in American government may be good, but successfully completing an American Government course from a Princeton or Stanford professor employing the techniques described by Koller above is going to be perceived as better- much, much better. Schools that want to keep their students are going to adapt to allow students to earn these credentials.

Savvy parents will lead the charge, but disadvantaged children potentially have the most to gain from these practices. Remember the problem Steven Brill put his finger on in Class Warfare in trying to scale up charter schools with a limited pool of TFA kids? Well, here you go-blended learning schools successfully substituting technology for labor will step into the breach. Big breakthoughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary, indeed.

Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn predicted half of all high-school classes would be taken online by 2019. It seemed like an incredibly bold prediction in 2008, but now an air of inevitability hangs around the substance of the prediction: online learning is taking off in a big way. Buckle your seat belts, this is going to be amazing.


Disruption Goes to College

February 10, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Clayton Christensen and company have a new report out on higher education and virtual learning for the Center for American Progress. Hat tip: Dave Saba’s Virtual Learning Blog.


The Way of the Future Sighting in Yuma

August 13, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Charter School Association has calculated student learning gains in grades 3-8 for every district and charter school in the state and posted the results online. Interestingly the same school came top in both math and reading- Carpe Diem E-Learning in Yuma Arizona. They not only came in first, it was by a pretty wide margin.

So, what’s the secret sauce? They let you know right on the school webpage:

Our academic program is a “hybrid” program consisting of on-site teacher-facilitators (coaches) and computer-assisted instruction (CAI) utilizing a computer-based learning and management system. Our program offers an extensive online library of interactive instructional courseware, providing learners and teachers with access to thousands of hours of self-paced, mastery-based instruction.

Our program considers individual differences in ability, knowledge, interests, goals, contexts and learning styles. Our instructional resources and strategies give our “coaches” the power to effectively tailor their instructional practices, accommodating the individual needs of the learner with the goal of achieving student mastery.

In the Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School (CDCHS), we believe that all students should have a high quality experience and technology-based education designed to help them be successful today, tomorrow and in the future.  What is “success?” At Carpe Diem, success means the student must demonstrate appropriate character and content proficiency (learning mastery), not just course completion.

Hybrid model mixing classroom instruction and technology delivered content. Teacher really serving as a guide on the side rather than a sage on a stage, only in a context where is finally makes sense. Sound familar?

Clayton Christensen has predicted that as a disruptive technology the day would come, after of years of occupying niches here and there, steadily growing like the mice at the feet of the dinosaurs, when people would realize that online learning represents a superior technology to Jurassic schools.  After reaching this tipping point, Christensen sees a rapid rise in online learning.

Terry Moe and John Chubb also see a bright future for e-learning, albeit one a bit more constrained by politics. Moe and Chubb see a chance to substitute technology for labor, providing the opportunity to provide better education for less money. Needless to say, this leads to opposition from the education unions, but Moe and Chubb see technology subtly but surely eroding the power of the unions.

Two of the most obvious possible advantages of online learning: self-paced schooling and required mastery of content to advance, both of which are featured at Carpe Diem.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on Carpe Diem’s progress, but producing the state’s largest gains in a relatively low-income area certainly has my attention.


Liberating Learning

June 1, 2009

Liberating Learning by Terry M. Moe: Book Cover

Two decades after writing Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, Terry Moe and John Chubb have done it again.  With Liberating Learning they’ve written a a compelling account of what is blocking significant improvement in public education and provided strategies for overcoming those obstacles. 

The main obstacle has remained the same across the two books: teachers unions.  Organized special interests in education as in other sectors of public policy shape the policies that are made.  In the case of education the special interests are so large, well-organized, and well-funded that their influence has distorted policy significantly to the benefit of the adults working in schools and against the interests of students and their families.

In their earlier book the solution to union dominance was choice and competition.  Interest groups can control policy but they can’t easily control markets.  But in the new book Moe and Chubb (they flipped the order of the names) acknowledge that unions have been generally successful at using politics to block the creation of effective markets.  Something has to loosen the union stranglehold to allow the markets to develop and prosper.

In Liberating Learning they’ve found what they think will break that logjam: technology.  The increasing use of technology in education will transform the operation of schools and the role of teachers in education.  In general, it will reduce the need for teachers by replacing (at least to some extent) labor with capital.  It will generate tons of data, improving the transparency of schools to the public and policymakers.  And it will decentralize the education workplace, making it harder for unions to organize and control the workforce.

There are clear echoes of Clayton Christensen’s work on disruptive technologies in this new book.  But unlike Christensen, Moe and Chubb focus on the politics of public organizations rather than technology per se.  In fact, if you are looking for detailed descriptions of how technology should be used in education or hard proof of its effectiveness, you won’t find it in Moe and Chubb’s new book.  They are not trying to prove that these technologies are educationally effective or describe best practices, although it is clear that they have some ideas on these topics.  They are trying to describe the political logic of the current stagnation in education and how it might be altered.

The clear writing and tight argument will make Liberating Learning a pleasure to read for education reformers.  We might still wonder whether unions will be able to use politics to block the transformative effect of technology, but the book is sure to provoke a lot of productive discussion and thinking.

(edited for typos)