Traditionally, students went to school to see and listen to teachers.
They took what they learned home to practice – what we know as homework.
They brought it back to school the next day to see what they did right, and what they did wrong.
But what if it were reversed?
What if students heard and saw the teachers at home, and came to class to practice what they’d learned. Or, better yet, to see what they could do with what they’d learned?
In a two-day conference titled “Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asked himself the following question: why am I paying $50,000 a year for my kid to go to college, when he can learn all he wants for free from massive, open online courses?
Friedman’s friend, Michael Sandel, teaches the famous, Socratic “Justice” course at Harvard, which has 1,000 students. The class is launching March 12, 2013, as the first humanities offering on the MIT-Harvard edX online learning platform.
In the blended education model, Friedman says students at San Jose State watch MIT lectures on circuits and electronics, and do the exercises at home. Then they come to class, ask the SJSU professor questions about the lectures, then devote most of the class time to problem-solving and discussion.
At the college level, this model allows more students to learn from the best teachers in the world. It also could lower the cost of college, because so much is available online. But it also gives colleges the flexibility to add more to the college experience while lowering the cost. It gives students the chance not just to learn, but also to apply what they’ve learned in practical situations. Students will not just get a degree, but could come out of college with some working knowledge in a given area.
But at the high school or middle school level, it could really lower costs. Suppose a high school student heard lectures on history, math, English etc. on his computer at home. Then, he came to school to do his “homework,” and to take tests. What if he could e-mail his questions to the lecturer and get answers via e-mail? What if the student had to log in to hear a lecture? The school could monitor a student’s activities at home.
What if there were more time at school to be with friends, and have fun? Do you think that might increase attendance, and lower the dropout rate? What if schools were more like labs?
Education at all levels has to not just get better. It has to get cheaper. Friedman, in his March 2013 column, talking about the college level, said that the bottom line is that the residential college experience has huge value. But blending in more technology into education will enhance that experience, improve education and lower the cost of college.
At lower education levels, more students can learn from the best teachers through online classes. They can have more fun at school applying what they’ve learned. School systems can have greater flexibility in the number of buildings it needs, the number of teachers it needs etc. In short, they could do much better for less money.
If you are in the education field, know that your world is changing. How fast it will change is anyone’s guess. If you don’t like what you see coming, visit That will give you a possible Plan B, should your situation change for the worse. For students, however, better education is on its way. For taxpayers, that better education could come at a lower cost.

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