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.


“If I had only an hour to live, I would spend it in this class because it feels like an eternity.”
That was one student’s comment to Jason B. Huett, a technology guru and University of West Georgia professor, when evaluating one of his courses.
Maureen Downey, education columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quoted Huett for the Dec. 10, 2012, edition. Huett was making the point that education is slow to change the way students are taught, despite the technological advances.
But a larger point might be: must students be bored in school?
As Downey paraphrases Huett, a frontier teacher from a century ago would be agape at the changes in the world, but the classroom would still largely look the same.
That teacher probably was taught that school needs to feel like work to a student. School should be the student’s job. When the student finishes school, he would go to a job that would be tedious and hard, so they had to learn to endure that in school.
If you read a typical textbook of yore, it’s hardly something you’d take to the beach to read – unless, of course you were cramming for an exam in the sun.
But what if teachers concentrated on ways to make learning more fun, or at least enjoyable? Sure, learning IS work, but a century ago, it seemed we taught students how to be good employees – how to duplicate repetitive tasks that they would do in the workplace when they graduated. We taught routine. We taught doing what you are told, and only asking questions if there was something you didn’t know.
In yesteryears, we gave students information in the only way we knew how. Today, however, students can get their own information through technology, faster than a teacher can convey it. The jobs of the future are going to require more innovation, because machines will handle the repetitive and tedious tasks.
Incidently, there are ways to make good incomes through repetition and duplication. To check out one of the best, visit
But, if we want kids to be more innovative, the education system has to be more innovative. If we want kids to be more collaborative – employers are looking for good, team players – we have to teach them that collaboration trumps competition with those on the same team. Sure, we have to evaluate students in terms of what they’ve learned, but what if the grading system were less about beating the person next to you, and more about the student’s and the person next to him’s mutual achievement?
Technology is changing our workplaces, but it is changing our education system at a much slower pace, Downey paraphrases Huett. Huett refers to the education system as a factory model that puts students on a conveyor belt at medium speed.
The workplaces of yesteryear had few innovators. To compete globally as a nation, innovation has to be encouraged at the earliest stage of life possible. Technology can make education more productive, and, perhaps, more interesting to students.
How refreshing it would be for educators to have more students in their classroom who WANT to be there? The jobs of the future will be less repetitive, less duplicative and more innovative – no matter the level a person works in an organization. Workers will relish the mutual success with those around them. It will be work, but it will seem less like WORK. Why can’t school be work, but seem less like SCHOOL?