This past week ISTE hosted the 2009 NECC in Washington, DC. It was a fun event, and I had the honor of participating in two events there—one being the keynote address on Tuesday morning the 30th and the other being at the Online Learning Institute on Wednesday, which was a great event with rich working-group discussions in essence that allowed nearly everyone to take home at least something new from what someone else was doing in the room.

The Tuesday keynote was structured as a debate. My team was selected to argue in support of the resolution: “Bricks-and-mortar schools are detrimental to the future of education.” NPR’s Robert Siegel moderated. Gary Stager was on my team along with Marshall Thompson, a high school debater from my alma mater, Walt Whitman. We faced off against Brad Jupp of the Department of Education, Cheryl Lemke of The Metiri Group, and another high school student, Erik Bakke from Virginia.

The big takeaway? It was something I knew going in, but as is so often the case, the resolution in essence posed the wrong question. It was absurd (purposely I hope)—and almost all of us argued variations of the same side. Cheryl Lemke delivered a wonderful speech that mapped nearly perfectly onto mine; we were in total agreement I think—and I highly recommend her remarks.

It seems obvious to me that for a variety of reasons, roughly 90-plus percent of students (that number is derived from some projections we ran when we were researching the book) could never take part in a fully virtual school program because of family structures and associated economic realities and the like, which is why hybrid-learning of various sorts will ultimately be so important to the future of education. Having a physical place for most students to go will always be important.

I had written several drafts of my remarks; in retrospect I think I wish I had kept one line in which was this: The exciting thing is that online learning is only in its infancy as we still struggle to allow it to escape our old assumptions about where and how learning must occur and to free it up to draw in learning opportunities for students from anywhere anytime.

I’m pretty sure including that would not have swung the debate to our side, however—so congratulations once again to Brad, Cheryl, and Erik!

– Michael B. Horn


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.