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The Future of Learning

Donald G. Perrin

Education is the most over-regulated and under-funded organization in the modern world. It receives great lip-service and more than its share of criticism. Everyone seems to be an expert on the ills of education because they have been through the process. In order to “fix” the system, politicians, some with very limited educational backgrounds, dictate to educators how to do their jobs. Budgets come with strings attached; parents pressure teachers and administrators; and communities add local political pressures both pro and con.

In a little more than 50 years we have moved from homogeneous K-12 grouping to heterogeneous groups that include a broad spectrum of intelligence levels (IQ), students with disabilities of many kinds - some multiply-handicapped, and students from homes where no English is spoken and communities that are multi-cultural and multi-lingual. We have made every classroom into a one-roomed schoolhouse and expect teachers, both new and old, to meet increasingly diverse student needs in an ever more complex society and simultaneously raise levels of academic achievement.

Even technology is a confounding factor because it is not properly supported. Many teachers lack technology training. Many teacher training institutions have neither personnel nor technology adequate for the task. Big business makes deals with big education for hardware, software, and courseware that may or may not support the needs of teachers and learners. Technology requires training, supplies, maintenance, and periodic replacement – an unlikely scenario in a period of diminishing budgets. And educators are constantly asked to do more - with less.

It would seem we have educational gridlock and as more players join the scrum an appropriate course of action is less clear. Those who are on the front lines – the teachers, administrators, children, and parents, are to be congratulated as survivors. But accolades do not solve problems.

It is time to recognize that the world as we knew it has changed. We are part of a global village. We need new skills to compete and collaborate. We need new models to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world. And we need an increasing level of continuing education to be able to grow and change our professions as we go through life.

Distance learning in its many forms is the most malleable technology because it is scalable and transcends many of the traditional barriers of time and distance. It is not surprising that it is being adopted as part of regular academic programs, high schools, elementary schools, home schools, and institutions both public and private.

New tools for customizing learning, such as learning objects, have an obvious role in refining and diversifying curriculum. To be effective, we should add real-world needs assessment, instructional design, flexible delivery, and relevant evaluation - a shift from verbal examination to portfolios, from measurement of knowledge to measurement of skills and performance using criterion based measures or rubricks.

These may not solve the problem of over-regulated and under-funded education, but are intelligent solutions that can make a very significant difference if appropriately applied.

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