The Evolution of Teaching

When I am browsing the forums of education platforms I come across one idea between online teachers from time to time. It has something to do with evolution. Basically they say that online teaching has to be radically different from what we teachers did up to now. No more text books. Everything must be interactive and online.

But if we take a closer look on the evolution of mankind and compare it to the evolution of teaching we will see something different.

First the evolution of mankind. If you take a closer look you will learn that there were always parts of coexistence of several different sorts of humans over sometimes very long periods. Even us, the homo sapiens shared the earth with two other species, the neanderthalensis and floreniensis. As this worked for mankind it should work for teaching as well.

Evolution of Teaching

Evolution of Teaching

Therefore I made this little timeline about the evolution of teaching. I know it’s not complete but I think you might get my idea.

First we see the good old book. I decided for Guttenberg although the Chinese already printed books at around thousand years ago. There are many talks when the classic book will die out. Infact many people already saw it being dead some years ago. But it is still there and I give it again 10 to 20 years. Even me although I am kind of a techie, I prefer classic books to e-readers and e-books.

Next in line we have the public school system. For this graph I took the German system which was established around 1800 in all german countries. Of course the public school system will stay even if it might go online in the near future.

Then we have the first language course that you could learn on your own with. It was a french course and has been developed by the german publisher Langenscheidt in 1856. Since then hundreds if not thousands of those courses hit the market and still do. On my timeline I let them die out before the end of the classic book. There is a trend for those books to go online for a while now. Wikipedia is only one reason for this. Even Microsoft discontinues Encarta this year although it never has existed as a book.

In 1905 Langenscheidt launched the first audio language course on grammophones. The concept stayed the same although the media devices changed over time to audio casettes and CDs. Therefore it does not really die out but always evolves to a “higher level” now becoming an mp3 file or podcast.

In 1983 guess who developed the first electronic travel dictionary (yes, Langenscheidt again). It looked like a calculator but was very popular. I think some of these devices still exist but I think we can mark this first electronic book as no longer existant.

Next the internet. I chose the end of the 90ies when internet became mainstream. Of course the net or the cloud or whatever it will be called in the future will stay for a long time.

E-books and E-Readers. The second generation of Kindle is out for a couple of weeks and still black and white. This will of course change very quickly. Fujitsu announced the first color reader and soon we will have the first devices that can play videos and have a decent soundcard in them. I think this will be one of the major changes that will have a huge effect on the elearning industry.

And last but not least the virtual classroom and online learning communities. Basically they do work for maybe a year now. So this is really the cutting edge of education with a huge potential in the future.

As you can see there are many things that changed the way how we teach and learn but none of them killed all the others immediately when it first appeared. When the homo sapiens sapiens emerged they shared the same territories with the homo neanderthalensis for over 200.000 years. They knew each other and science says that they might have had relationships, too. I only say Livemocha meets Pearson (you decide who is who).

But lets get back to my main point. I think as a teacher you should not make the mistake and see the other parts of education as old, dying out and not interesting anymore. They are still huge markets and will stay like this for some other 10 years or so. If you turn away from them you leave money on the table.

And just because you are on the cutting edge does not mean that your students are. For most of them a good old textbook from Cambridge or Oxford is more important in the decision if they take a course with you than your fancy new teaching style. And maybe more important: just because you are a “web native” does not mean your customers are. Face it. People that have the time to take lessons and, more important, the money to pay you now are around 40 years old, some of them even older. They might get along with the basics of the internet and computers but you cannot expect them to understand the need of an interactive classroom environment. Web natives meaning people who never knew a world without internet are around 18 years old. Maybe they are fancied by a virtual classroom but they are not yet the ones who see the need of a language course to brush up their personal profile.

It is nice to be avantgarde but if you are the only one who runs 500 yards infront of the battleline you might the first one who runs out of breath or who gets killed, too.

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  • China_Mike


    Getting rid of books at this stage would mean getting rid of stories encoded in a simple, understandable technology (print) which we all spent years learning to master. This saddens me. There are so many great stories out there that students can enjoy and learn from.

    I am afraid that teachers who speak of the elimination of books don't understand what a pleasure it is for students to read and understand a story in a foreign language. I'm afraid that teachers like this have been conditioned to think of books in only one way- as course books. NOT SO, NOT TRUE! The question is, how can we include text-based stories in an on-line teaching venue?

    • KirstenWinkler

      Quite easily. My new German courses include classic text books that are included in the package price. They are shipped on demand tp the students by Amazon and this way the student not only has the secure feeling of a classic textbook but also the opportunity to work between two sessions more intensively.

      To make use of the virtual classroom I simply adapt some of the exercises in the textbook into lesson slides for the classroom. This way you get the best of the two worlds ;).

  • ChrisN

    Most Course Books now come in the form of a Student's Book, a Workbook, a Teacher's Manual together with a CD for classroom use and a certain amount of back-up material (interactive exercises on the publisher's website). Can we look forward to these books being adapted for shared viewing (between the teacher and the student) during online lessons?
    Or have I missed something and such material is already available?

    • KirstenWinkler

      As I said, I take the classic course books, ship them to my students and then make some easy slides reflecting the content of the exercises for the virtual classroom.

      But I think it will come in the near future. Maybe next year.