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.


manoj said...

Salman Khan has changed the way education is delivered ... sort of stepped up what MIT started (offering all the classroom materials on the web for free). This is definitely going to be a great leveler of education.

However, I think learning process is more than getting into monologue kind of structure. I strongly believe that I learned more from my friends in the class than just from teachers. I wonder how can one combine what Sal has with community of wed-based classmates sharing their thoughts on any subject.


Learn On the Internet said...

Thank you very much to bring out this issue before all of us. This is really a very informative one and the discussion and the points you have raised is just wonderful. I have already gone through the whole and just loved this.

Molly said...

Can it be put on a stick - absolutely! That's why there is so much excitement about the Khan Academy and the Aakash tablet. However, because you have a great product or service does not mean automatic adoption. One of the biggest challenges for BoP-preneurship is acceptance. Because you are delivering to a community that lives on a few dollars a day, each penny spent is precious. It's a financial risk to try something new. Also, under served communities are isolated from capital markets, so they are not influenced by the same trends. In my past partnership with low cost private schools, I learned that off the shelf products did not have uptake like services developed and offered by community oriented entrepreneurs. Context is crucial to develop the essential trust to drive adoption.
I love the idea to have Khan Academy on a jump drive. The question is, when parents, teachers, students, and school leaders compare "the stick" to a "the book" which will they value more? In most low income neighborhoods, books are known and valued. The "the stick" is a new concept and most likely there is limited access to the hardware and electricity. A paradigm shift is required. Shifts are taking place, but not as fast as we upload new apps in Silicon Valley.

Bopreneur said...

Thanks Manoj and Molly for commenting.
Manoj, check out the link to the NPR story... it talks about some ideas of using groups within the classroom, and has some data on improved learning, at least in physics. In my class, first I emphasize importance of reading, then I try a mix of lecture (me and guests), socratic (hey, I went to THE law school) and group work. Hoping that if I throw enough stuff on the wall, some of it sticks for each student. I like your idea of setting up web based classes. Will be interesting to see what happens with Skillshare and similar efforts, too.
Molly- good points. Thanks for sharing. Automatic adoption is rare. It seems to be part of the narrative on mobile phones now... but I was working on mobile phones in 1989... and it was a slog in those early days. I think Manoj has a pretty good thing going, not automatic, but pretty rapid.

suellen said...

Whether it is a "sage on the stage" of a "guide on the side", we can't discount the student's motivation as a key ingredient. But even if you're motivated one teacher's style may not mesh with your brain's information assimilation style. Paul, your 'see what sticks' method has lots of appeal -- like a restaurant menu with something for everyone.

Anonymous said...

With wages stagnating for college graduates here in the US, and college tuition rate growth continuing to outpace inflation, I think you're right on with education being "ripe for disruption". I read something somewhere about the need for regionally focused educational institutes that are a hybrid of high school & college - designed based upon the needs of the region - environmentally, socially, and economically. Maybe the building of a new economy will bypass the need for certain educational "seals of approval" and focus on the skills the person has to get what needs to get accomplished done.