June 2008 Index
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Time to Learn

Donald G. Perrin

Paradigms of traditional education are being changed by Distance Learning. A new paradigm invalidates previous knowledge and demands assessment and validation for the new. Gaslight replaced candle light, electric replaced gaslight, and fluorescent lamps are now replacing incandescent tungsten. Each paradigm has distinctive properties and operates under its own set of rules. This occurred when the horse and carriage was modified to vehicles propelled by steam, gasoline, and other forms of energy. The Zepplin became the airplane, space shuttle, etc..

Technology is changing the educational landscape. The slate transformed to pencil and paper, typewriter, copier, and computer. The chalkboard was enhanced with projected images, slides, films, and video. The spoken word was replicated by the phonograph, radio, cassette, and MP3 player. Discussion and role play were enhanced with interactive audio and visual media such as the telephone, language labs, two-way television, interactive multimedia, computer-based instruction, and the internet. Assessment, curriculum, library services, teaching, learning, and management have benefited from technologies that simplify or automate repetitive activities.

First level technologies emulate their predecessor, like the horse-less carriage. But technology offers new opportunities and form follows function. In education, we are moving from a factory model based on batch processing, typically 20-50 students at a time, to customized learning where a continual flow of interactive communications provide diagnostic and prescriptive data to optimize learning. In the factory model each student receives the same information in the same amount of time and learns differently. Under the new paradigm, each student receives customized learning programs where learning is the constant and time and instruction are the variables. A rubric monitors progress until the criterion level is achieved.

If what we learn is important, why accept a grade less than A? Would you buy a new automobile where reliability, performance, and safety was rated 90%? Automakers use quality control and provide a performance warranty for their product. Can education do the same?

Technology can customize and manage individual learning programs. Learning materials can be improved based on student feedback. Pre-produced lesson modules (learning objects) can adapt to individual student needs as learning is taking place. Materials can be improved with each iteration. Many repetitive tasks now accomplished by teachers can be automated and set the teacher free for tutorial assistance, individual help, and problem-solving.

There will always be a place for traditional teaching and sage-on-the-stage experiences. But as students assume greater responsibility for their own learning and the process is criterion based and results oriented, relevance and quality of learning for the masses will be greatly improved. We are no longer competing with a local, state or national standard. We are competing for jobs in a global economy, and the time to get-ready is now!



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