The Benevolent Octopus: Using Distance Learning To Reach All Students

For the first hundred thousand years of human existence, the schooling of children was completed in ways that were practical to the function of the society.  Meaning, kids learned from elders who learned from their elders and so on.  The skills acquired were entirely practical: how to sow and harvest a crop, which seasons were best for planting, and how to accurately track an animal, kill it, then skin the sucker.  Learning was for real-life events and situations and would often be done with individual instruction between expert and student.

Of course, modern society has seen a shift in both subject matter taught to children (relevant information, just not as practical) and the delivery method of teaching.  Where learning used to be individualized, modern teachers are tasked with the education of, very often, hundreds of young minds throughout a day of schooling.  The one-to-one instruction of ancient times is a pipe dream in the minds of today’s teachers.  Also, technology has been running through education like wildfire, causing policymakers to take notice and evaluate how the use of technology could help advance the future of education. These technological methods are the future of our world’s education, as evidenced by the use of internet-based class formats by a majority of American universities and many others, worldwide. 

I think we need to ask ourselves: Why should we utilize Internet based education in our schools, anyway?  That answer should be fairly obvious.  To gain access to experts in certain fields (subject matter experts, or SME’s) one may have to expand their method of learning and look outside of their classroom at their school.  This is normally due to the distance from the expert to the student.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have a teacher who is proficient in the language of Swahili, for example.  But, with internet-based teaching modalities that teacher of Swahili can spread their knowledge to learners over the entire globe.  No longer are students limited to the SME’s that are available locally.  Experts around the world can be utilized to improve the lives of people thousands of miles from their home. 

Children of Atlanta, Georgia, USA
So, modern education has evolved into what I like to call a “benevolent octopus”.  Education in this century and beyond will involve instructors of various nationalities and cultures spreading what they know to students worldwide.  It is conceivable that a student could, through the magic of the Internet and computer technology, have a Calculus instructor based in Pakistan, and English instructor located in Canada, a Biology instructor located in Honduras, and an Art instructor based in New York City.  Students of the world today could have the best possible instructors in every field right at their fingertips and on the screens of their televisions, computers, and smart phones.  The goal of education is to better the lives of the learner and to impart knowledge from the best possible sources.  The benevolent octopus could do deliver the overall goal of education.

The benevolent octopus of online collaboration and learning is one that would allow students to reach out with many different “arms” to the information that they need to improve their lives.  There would still be a place for on-site teachers, of course.  The instructors on-site, or physically with their classes, would be critical in the functioning of schooling through the virtual world.  The on-site teachers would act as tutors, problem solvers, assistants, as well as teaching a few classes of their own, face-to-face.  However, an added benefit would be that on-site teachers would no longer have to be “generalists”.  They too, could be experts in their field. 

Of course, there is a question of the costs of outfitting schools, communities, and individual homes with the equipment needed to take part in such cutting edge educational experiences.  Yes, there is an up-front cost.  There’s just no way around that fact.  But, once the cost-prohibitive factors of equipment and infrastructure are in place, the cost per child of internet-based education is very reasonable.  In a later blog post, I will tackle the issue of cost, so stay-tuned.

Internet based education can benefit our children in ways unknown in past generation.  The access that today’s students have to teachers in distance lands, peers with cultures very unlike their own, and resources from around the world is astounding.  We just need to figure out a way to get each child their own benevolent octopus so they can reach out to the world and get the education that they need.

That, for us, is the challenge.

Author: Josh Mincey (Pangea Proxima International Consultant- Distance Learning Specialist)


MarkSoft said...

That's for sure, technology is there for us to take advantage of it. But I doubt that childs would go for themselves and start an online session with a teacher for a biology or math class.

So this is a parents duty, they should embrace new technologies and learn to use them on their childrens behalf.

How many of us have downloaded educational videos vs movies or entertainment stuff from the Internet?

I mean, we should probably make it easier for childrens to reach valuable content at the net if we present the knowledge the way they want it, and that's our duty. Make knowledge interesting for a child, I think educational videogames is the way to go. Taking advantage of multimedia and interactivity the child will be eager to return to the learning session.

I think that's the path to go when targeting young people. And that could end up with great results.

Rather than videoconferences with a remote teacher...

Hope this helps.

J Mincey said...

Multimedia and interactive games are definitely valid ways to get kids hooked on an educational concept. This can't be the only way, though. Yes, it would be the duty of the parent/teacher/caregiver to get students to interact with the web in an educational capacity. However, I believe that once kids got into an online classroom and hooked up with engaging teachers via the net, then their interest would be sustained.

I am looking seriously into the educational games (good ones, not the lame ones I grew up with) and how to incorporate them into an online school environment. Totally focusing on games would be irresponsible of us, as educators, however. We cannot teach kids that everything they learn will be fun, or even interesting. That's just not the way things work. There are requirements mandated by school systems that are...well, they just aren't any fun. You know?

Thanks for the comment and you gave me more encouragement to look into game creation. Thanks!