Education isn't a place you go, it's a thing you do

 

Spend any time in the technology industry, and you’ll begin to notice “working from home” is becoming more commonplace. Large and small tech agencies are slowly opening up to the idea of letting their employees work remotely. A day or two a week, I build websites in the comfort of my own home. With all of the recent developments in technology, it’s very easy to keep up to date and connected without going into an office. Some technology companies don’t even have an office at all.

Strangely, I never thought about this kind of a process in the context of education. But this article in the Wall Street Journal, ”My Education in Home Schooling”, made me wonder… can and will education begin to make this switch too?

“Imagine that your high-school junior spends half of every day at the brick-and-mortar school up the street. Two afternoons a week, he logs into an art-history seminar being taught by a grad student in Paris. He takes computer animation classes at the local college, sings in the church choir and dives at the community pool. He studies Web design on YouTube. He and three classmates see a tutor at the public library who preps them for AP Chemistry. He practices Spanish on Skype and takes cooking lessons at a nearby restaurant every Saturday morning.”

I think we tend to subconsciously fall into the habit of thinking about “education” as a place that you go, rather than a thing that you do. I remember near the end of my high school years, I decided I was curious about the guitar. I happened to type in “guitar chords” into google, not knowing what I’d find. It turned out to be a never-ending library of “How to” articles and resources. I finally realized that learning new skills was something I could do on my own. I didn’t have to wait for school to get around to teaching it to me. It was a very liberating feeling.

Online repositories like MIT’s Open CourseWare are bringing complex subjects out of the walls of universities. I’m not saying that any kid can learn something like Quantum Field Theory by browsing the internet, but there’s no reason that great learning can’t take place out of the classroom. And using the new tools that internet technology provides naturally facilitate this.

There’s a lot of effort these days to bring technology into the classroom. And sometimes it gets a lot of bad press (that I don’t actually think hits the mark). Perhaps we’re thinking about this the wrong way around. Maybe, it should be less about bringing technology to the classroom, and more about using technology to bring learning out of the classroom.

The author offers the term “roam schooling” to describe this idea. Decouple the idea of education from any particular institution, location, or person. The process of learning a particular subject or skill can freely draw from whatever resource is most suitable at the time. Why not have an education system like this, even in part? It seems like a very attractive idea, especially since it can easily adapt to the student’s individual goals, interests, and aptitudes. How can we build on this idea? What resources would students, teachers, and parents need to make this a viable option?

Easy access to information, of course, is not equal to education… but it certainly helps. A great teacher is more of a “learning facilitator” than simply a lecturer or an encyclopedia. And some of this facilitation and guidance may or may not be able to come from parents. I don’t know what a “roam school” education system would look like… but it seems to me that we’re struggling to fix a broken education system largely isolated from the technological shifts that are changing every other aspect of our lives. Technology may not be the whole answer… but maybe we’re just asking the wrong question.

Edit: Looks like the most recent TED talk is about this very subject