Why digital learning will liberate teachers
I spend a lot of time writing about how digital learning can transform our education system into a student-centric one. In my last blog, I wrote about why parents—of all stripes—matter for digital learning and make it fundamentally different from past “reform” movements. Digital learning should similarly be a game changer for teachers.
Teachers will be critical to our nation’s future in a world of digital learning. Of course, teachers’ jobs will also be quite different from the way they look today—and if we do this right, they should not just be different, but they should also be a whole lot better, as it liberates them in many exciting ways.
Today, teachers spend a significant amount of time engaged in what we call “monolithic” activities—one-size-fits-all, standardized activities that are designed to reach the mythical middle of a class of students. As documented in the book Delivering on the Promise: The Education Revolution, this includes such things as lecturing, managing classroom behavior, scoring papers and tests, preparing for state testing, updating grade books—and I’d add to the list such things as lesson planning for one-size-fits-none lessons (see Chapter 5 of Disrupting Class).
On top of this, there are a lot of demands made of teachers—bolstering student learning being the overriding one, but there’s a lot of administrative asks that go along with the job, too. And in the construct of today’s monolithic system with its limiting notion of factory-modeled classrooms with batches of students, there just isn’t the time or ability for most teachers to differentiate instruction meaningfully or respond to data, let alone enhance and extend the curriculum, spend significant chunks of time working in small groups or one-on-one with students who are struggling or need enrichment, and so forth. In other words, they can’t really focus on facilitating actual learning. In what is an incredibly noble field in which adults try to make a meaningful difference in the lives of their students, today’s system works against them doing so at every twist and turn.
In a world where digital learning becomes the platform for our education system, however, this whole notion should turn around. In a time-variable, learning constant competency-based (or mastery-based) system, much as the type Sal Khan has talked about, a teacher’s job will be richly rewarding around these types of activities.
Without rehashing every point, in one example, as software increasingly handles direct instruction, this will create big opportunities for teachers to facilitate rich and rewarding project-based learning experiences for their students to apply their learning into different contexts and gain meaningful work in the so-called 21st-century skills. And as software increasingly simplifies administrative tasks and eliminates a significant need for lesson planning and delivering one-size-fits-none lessons, there will be significantly more time for teachers to work in the ways that motivated many of them to enter teaching originally—to work one-on-one and in small groups with students on the problems where they are in fact struggling.
There should also be opportunities to create a variety of differentiated roles for teachers—so that they can pursue their strengths and don’t have to be frustrated by their weaknesses (much as happens in other fields)—as well as increasingly creative opportunities for team teaching, both in a school environment as well as virtually across geographies, to make teaching far less isolating and provide far more opportunities for recognition among one’s peers. Some of the different roles may range from content expert to learning facilitator and from mentor or motivator to caseworker, as well as roles like content creator or assessment professional. Teachers in the field may have other ideas for these as well, and undoubtedly there will continue to be significant evolution.
The bottom line? Digital learning should liberate teachers’ lives by making the opportunities for success far more frequent, and the opportunities for teachers to pursue what they like and their passions about the teaching profession far more possible. And for those that have liked doing some of everything—there probably will continue to be a fair amount of that, too.