Wednesday, January 04, 2012

This is what disruption looks like

My wife says Sal Khan is one of the best teachers she has ever had. She went to Boulder High, Smith College, Colorado College and University of Colorado, and has taken classes at Front Range Community College. Until Sal, she thought she had had some wonderful teachers. She also likes that she can learn from Sal whenever she wants (try that with Mrs. Maple, or Professor Hudnut). And she can learn at her own pace.

Now, my wife has a wifi connection (at least most of the time... don't get me going on Comcast). And through such connections, Khan Academy can reach 1/3 of English speaking world (the connected). Several hundred million people.

But this is Khan on a stick.  Without a wifi connection. So you can learn on a plane, or in a jungle, or base camp... from a great teacher. Or in a school without internet, or great teachers. And a lot of people can learn from Sal at the same time, yet they all feel like they are getting one-on-one attention.

Next step... a low bandwidth mobile app? Downloading classes to a cellphone? To get away with those pretentious computers, and reach those rapidly growing smartphone users? And Khan is working on a translation project, so other languages will soon be available. And then there is streaming... Khan isn't on Spotify yet, but he does have a number of free lectures in iTunes.

Coming soon... School of (N)one? Cost approaching zero? Is human knowledge like media storage in the end? You see, beside the cost of the thumb drive, Khan on a Stick is free. Of course, there is opportunity cost, your time listening to it, but it is likely to be lower than actually attending a class.

In my 9 years of teaching, I have learned that teaching and learning are different, and that they are not always related (unfortunately). A recent NPR story covered the ineffectiveness of lectures for learning, despite their broad acceptance for teaching in schools around the world. They form the basis of the business (as usual) model for education. More and more, the learners of the world are saying they want something different, and Khan Academy and Classroom of One are beginning to deliver real options. Are the teachers, and the institutions that employ them, listening to the learners? Can we learn?
Mr. Disruptive Innovation himself, Clayton Christensen, wrote a book in 2008 on the ripeness of education for disruption- "Disrupting Class". Sir Kenneth Robinson has made the case that schooling kills creativity. And none other than Mark Twain observed that schooling can interfere with one's education. Bringing up the bottom of this class, I have blogged about Disruptive Education and Educational Arsonists. And a hack you can do if you are accepted at an Ivy League school.
I believe that one learns a lot by attending school- about others, about yourself, about how to light a match off your tooth. It isn't just about the 3 R's. But I think that for schools to stay relevant and useful, a lot more innovation is needed. And, not everyone gets to go to school. Yet everyone, even Sal Khan, has something to learn.
Question to ponder:
If you provide a service... can it be put on a stick? It's not just a problem for food anymore.

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