21st-Century Basics: Maximizing Learning Environments

Learning Environment Strengths Comparison Chart

Here are some things we know:

  • Different people learn at different rates.
  • Different people have different connections, doorways, and interests related to any given class or topic.
  • We have amazing new technologies that allow us to shift, shuffle, relocate and deliver unprecedented amounts of information, video, materials, and communications to students, teachers, and parents.

Here are some questions you may have heard or might be asking yourself:

Now that Internet access and a modern computer are becoming common in American homes with students, we have new powerful teaching technology. On-demand access to lectures, examples, tutorials, simulations, and forums for learning just about anything you can imagine is a mind-blowing difference from just twenty years ago.

It really is a whole new world; it's just that many people don't know it yet.

The core principle to apply now is: make the best use of each modality and technology to serve students, teachers, parents and society.

In general, that boils down to making the very best learning environments possible. That means understanding the attributes of each asset -- the strengths and weaknesses -- and applying them accordingly.

For example, is learning on the computer a good replacement for mentoring, support and assessment that teachers can provide in the classroom? No, computer learning environments are not good at those things. So don't use computer learning for those things. Those are strengths of the classroom.

Meanwhile, is the classroom with a live teacher a good replacement for on-demand video? No. Teachers and classmates don't have pause or rewind buttons. Teachers don't enjoy repeating the same lecture for each class, over and over. It's a waste of the teacher's time; humans with college degrees and teaching credentials make for very expensive tape recorders / VCRs / CD-Players. It doesn't serve the students well, it doesn't serve the teachers well. So don't use classrooms for those kinds of things. These are strengths of Internet video.

"Blended Learning" is the term to mean a hybrid, part-computer, part-classroom approach. The goal is, of course, to create the most balanced, effective blended-learning mix possible. How do you know when you have a good mix? When students excel, learn faster and deeper, develop higher order skills, and report that they are enjoying the process. Some might be surprised to learn that when application and use of resources are balanced and optimized for best results, it is less expensive than inefficiently applying those resources - resources like classrooms and teachers.

What the end result? Well, it is the end result that is needed to be successful in the ever-more-complex, problem-addled 21st-century: better results at a lower cost. And when you apply that to educating more engineers, writers, leaders and knowledge workers, it means a huge impact on the success and wealth of America.

If you aren't familiar with the idea of a "flipped classroom", here's a good introduction.
Sal Khan Video Lecture on Digital Learning | Khan Academy
Also, see my resource page on Flipped Classrooms

Realize that the focus is on learning, not education.
Re-Imagining Learning in the 21st Century | MacArthur Foundation

Let's shift the focus of student activities away from consuming media to creating and producing it.
Rethinking Learning: The 21st Century Learner | MacArthur Foundation

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