Are Teachers Going to be Irrelevant?

Over the past few days, I have been trying out Babbel to learn French. They have obviously iterated over their interactive courses to come up with an incredibly nice solution (and the speech recognition is just the icing on the cake). I have been telling about this to anyone whom I can. And, that has resulted in some great conversations, especially with some people who have traveled around the world.

Its probably a given that the motivation to learn another language is strong for people who are traveling around the world. And just as expected, this was true in the conversations I had. What was interesting however, was that most of them mentioned Rosetta Stone in the same breath as language learning. They were unaware of most other platforms we talk about in this blog. To put this in perspective, let me restate, these people travel and ‘have’ traveled around the world. Also, these people are ‘upwardly’ ‘mobile’. They have come from ‘connected’ places like New York, Berkeley, Mumbai, Sydney etc. and have gone to different parts of the globe. Also, it wasn’t that they were *just* aware of Rosetta Stone as a brand. They had used it or come close to using it. This was surprising. But, what was more surprising were the options they considered for learning. They had only considered finding a brick-and-mortar Institute or a self-paced-course-software. When I mentioned that why don’t they look for a teacher online, I just managed to get a curious gaze. Not knowing what to make of this, I shrugged it off thinking that this is just a motley group of people I just happen to know. Its not even close to 1% of the sample size you need to make any sort of conclusion. At best, you can conclude that, upwardly mobile connected people can take onus of their learning on them and a self-paced-course-software works perfectly for them.

On a different tangent, I know of an increasing trend where teenagers are forgoing studies in colleges, to learn the ropes directly. In some cases, they enroll for correspondence courses, to get a degree, while they found startups or reach positions of eminence even before they are 21. They don’t want to “waste” precious years just to get a degree. Their opinion about *most* teachers is not very encouraging. Important also to note, their willingness to learn from someone is directly related to their expertise, skill and ability to create engaging learning experiences. From my experience, most of the teachers fail to do so. As I write this, I remember talking to Kirsten Winkler last week. She kept trying to convince me, that good engaging learning experience is possible without teachers. Coming from a teacher herself, it seemed a bit odd. She gave me number of examples, including a Math Program, being developed by expat Indians that is getting rave reviews from test audience. We concluded that *most* teachers are not ready to move to teach online. I went a step further to say, most teachers are living in fossil times anyways and open online platforms (like @wiziq and even @myngle) expose them even more. Most of them fail to use the medium in a creative way to provide an engaging learning experience. And this, when your competition will be world-class learning material available for free (see related post by Bill Gates Predictions covered by Kirsten Winkler).

So, increasingly, it appears like, we are preparing to sound the death of Teachers, at least of the vast majority.

In questions like these, you tend to put yourself in context and evaluate! Although, I have a teacher (software development training) side to me, I wanted to evaluate what is it that I want to learn? It was easy to answer: Marketing, SQL querying and French. Am I learning – for instance, marketing? Yes. I learn a lesson every day by following Seth Godin, among others. I learn about new platforms in Education Space from Kirsten Winkler all the time. But then, doesn’t that make Seth Godin and Kirsten Winkler, teachers and consequently, this means that, Teachers are still relevant. Right? Yes. And in this, also lies the answer to the question.

Actually, the answer has been around for a long time. I remember reading a post about Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize economist, who taught a class starting before 8 o clock in cold winters. The class was always packed. Why? I remember a Professor in our college, telling us, the first day of the class -> This course has attendance requirements but you can mark your attendance and leave any time. Yet, majority of the class would always stay back. Why? I’ll blindly attend a webinar priced whatever it is, by Seth Godin. Why? Seth Godin has obviously built his reputation over the last 20-odd years. Amartya Sen example above, was when, he had a reputation but no Nobel Prize. Similarly, the professor, I talked about, was as local as you get (not more than 2-3 results in Google if you searched him out). Yet, he was able to hold the class together. Why? The answer, as I see it, and what I have mentioned in this post again and again, is, Engaging Learning Experience. Teachers who will create Engaging Learning Experience on the web, will thrive. Those who don’t, will not. These Learning Experiences could involve them teaching directly or creating compelling content pieces.

An example of an Engaging Learning Experience from @danielpink – another of my teachers :) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

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  • chinamike

    I don't follow your thinking on this. Can you state your thesis a bit more clearly? I am not sure how the examples you gave supports your thesis. And what is the riddle that you are giving us an answer to?

    • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

      Hey Mike: Thanks for reading and commenting my experimental meanderings :) I am not sure if it was put together coherently. I tried to take the question of “Are teachers going to be irrelevant” as a question/ riddle. Why I ask this question is because we hear of this all the time. I gave some examples of the context in which these arguments are made. I am also saying that teaching publicly on internet is not a cup of tea for everyone.

      • chinamike

        Experimental meanderings…I like that. I am really trying to sink my teeth into what you are saying and it is a bit hard because the context of your situation in India is far different from mine in China.

        I don't have any disagreement re: not all teachers being fit (or prepared) for the Internet. In my experience I think you are talking about a very small group of active practioners anyway (5%). I think more effort needs to go into preparing these teachers for an Internet future and I'm pretty sure that current teacher training is not adequate to the task. They always seem to be always be fighting the war with weapons (and strategy) from the last war.

        I think we need to do a MUCH better job connecting teaching and technology. But when will the technology stop advancing so we have an opportunity to catch up? :)

        • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

          All I can say is +1.

          Also, I think there has been a lack [just like other professions] in teachers taking responsibility for their own growth and learning. Just what they complain about their students!

          • chinamike

            Vikrama,
            As a former teacher trainer, I believe that training for language teachers is skewed towards large class instruction- be it privately or publicly. I have yet to see any training that turned its back almost completely on large class instruction and had as its primary goal one of making teachers superior 1-to-1, or small group instructors.

            When I say this I am ignoring all training that is designed to make teachers better users of the newest technology. I feel that most technology training is just a short term band-aid and chiefly works for a single specific technology platform which generally has a life span of what?…..2 years. Teachers need to learn how to see where technology is going so they can prepare to be ahead of the curve.

            The biggest problem I see is that technology training is designed to benefit organizations not teachers who become tethered to a specific technology platform.

            One way forward to improve on-line training is to get teachers out of the large class, teacher-centered mindset and into a mindset that puts teachers at the center of helping a student LEARN with assistance from intelligent tools.

          • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

            >>One way forward to improve on-line training is to get teachers out of the large class, teacher-centered mindset and into a mindset that puts teachers at the center of helping a student LEARN with assistance from intelligent tools.

            Agree.

          • chinamike

            Vikrama,

            I thought you would :) The problem is how does the ball start rolling? My own guess is that teacher training and institutionalized habits aren't going to change until there are some great apps out there that are “game changing”.

          • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

            Most people are followers – that is the involuntary response.

            Also, there are two ways people change:

            1. Environment changes
            2. Leaders change

            [2] leads to [1].

            So, where are the leaders whom others will follow.

            Not to mention that environment does not play a role. Facebook/ Twitter/ Internet has changed the society. So, lets ask – where are the leaders – the people and the apps?

          • chinamike

            The leaders, in terms of teaching English, are largely academic types at present. And some ARE talking about radical changes to pedagogy and instruction. But how will their thoughts be translated into action? Probably by commercial entities that can convert these ideas into reality.

            So your leaders come in two types–thought leaders and action (business) leaders especially given that so much innovation in education is driven by the business side today.

            The sad thing is that so many of the action types don't take the time to integrate great pedagogy along with business innovations. So, instead of one radical solution I expect to see many small pieces being knit together. Or, innovation by accretion.

            P.S.- Steven Krashen stands as an example of one person who combines the pure academic type with a lesser action type and so we see his influence on TPRS a very innovative approach to large class education.

          • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

            Perhaps, we also need to realize that “online” solutions in part or whole, are not a pre-requisite for this innovation!!!

          • chinamike

            I am no techie, but I believe that we can't turn the clock back. Online “innovations” are of necessity going to be part of any solution(s). A pre-requisite maybe not, but certainly a necessary partner.

            You have backed me into a corner…but here…I'm going to say it…there will probably be no new innovations without tech but, on the other hand, there will probably be no powerful innovations without passionate teachers, and there will probably be no lasting innovations without the right results.

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  • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

    From @enkerli on Twitter : Like journalists and record-industry executives, “teachers” may become irrelevant if they don't adapt. A constructivist ideas I like: “learning happens despite teaching.” There are other roles for “teachers.”

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