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.