Triage in the Virtual Classroom
Donald G. Perrin
Triage is a process used in emergencies to maximize the effectiveness of response teams. In extreme cases it separates the living from the dying, and assigns rescue workers and medical help to save the largest numbers of people. This is a frightening analogy to use for learning environments, but the same decision conflicts arise for teachers and how they relate to learner needs. Are there enough resources for everyone to be treated equally? If equal means the same treatment for every student, we make decisions for the group as a whole. This is counter-productive for individuals with special needs, and inefficient for those whose needs differ from the majority. If we focus on individual needs, we do not have enough time and resources to support all class members. This is where the triage concept comes in. How can we apply our finite (and often limited) resources to maximize learning?
The industrial revolution gave us the batch processing model used in classroom learning. It is based on delivery of knowledge by the teacher through lectures and discussions. Many teachers feel they have achieved their objectives if they “cover” the entire curriculum. More recently, emphasis has moved to performance on standardized tests. Let us call this kind of classroom an “information delivery system.” The emphasis is on content delivery and test taking. In the first half of the twentieth century this kind of learning was improved by presentation technologies such as films, filmstrips, recordings, radio, and television.
In the second half of the twentieth century communication technologies became individual and interactive as in the language lab, teaching machines, interactive multimedia, computer-based learning, interactive television, the internet, and cell phone. Initially these were cost prohibitive, but over time they became inexpensive, plentiful and ubiquitous.
For a long time the folk culture of education resisted technology. The new millennium was ushered in with computers, cell phones, internet, and distance learning embedded in education and training across the globe. Social changes were underway to “flatten” the world economy and “outsource” production and services to the lowest bidder. There was less opportunity for low performing learners and “graduates” of poorly performing schools. Global standards replaced local competition with new global competitors. Educational systems in previously industrialized countries found nations such as China and India were now major competitors. Triage became necessary to repair failing systems of education in nations that were once leaders.
Learning management system (LMS) technology is endemic to distance learning. Many LMSs have tools to enable “triage” by rapid identification of learner needs. The same technology provides interactive learner-specific solutions, monitors progress, and balances the needs of individual learners against available resources and needs of other learners.
LMS technology sets the “instructor” free to guide and manage the learning process, diagnose and prescribe solutions beyond the limits of the LMS, and provide individual tutoring where needed. The computer and the internet make LMS resources available anywhere and anytime. They are a logical alternative to traditional classroom education.
Just as we have new leaders in the world economy, we need leaders and innovators in teacher training to enable today’s teachers to catch up and pass their technology savvy students. We need to reorient educational systems to develop “minds”, not “hands”. We need to develop learners who are entrepreneurial, innovative, creative, efficient, and excellent communicators. Good education solutions are needed to avoid triage in national job markets and national economies.