Hybrid Learning: Beyond the Course and Credit Hour

Innovation framed by current structures of courses, semesters, and credit hours simply does not address either the disruptive or potentially liberatory aspects of digital technologies, either now or in 2020. Indeed, it’s likely that these current structures, scaled up on industrial models throughout the second half of the twentieth century, have eroded many of the enduring values of education in a democratic society. The result has been a system that seems perversely designed to obscure and thwart the very ideals it professes.

Change is already here. Not all of it is good: witness the scandals of for-profit firms recruiting underprepared students merely to tap into their federal aid money, careless of whether they earn a degree or have any rich or meaningful learning along the way.

By contrast, look at the accomplishments of Salman Khan, who for his “Khan Academy” has singlehandedly created over 2100 ten- to twenty-minute videos on topics ranging from history to calculus.

Khan’s equipment? A PC and about $300 worth of software and peripherals–and of course the Internet, YouTube, and most important of all, an unshakable commitment to deep and challenging learning:

I teach the way that I wish I was taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him. The concepts are conveyed as they are understood by me, not as they are written in a textbook developed by an educational bureaucracy. Viewers know that it is the labor of love of one somewhat quirky and determined man who has a passion for learning and teaching. I don’t think any corporate or governmental effort–regardless of how much money is thrown at the problem–can reproduce this.

The Internet can make the results of these values and this commitment available worldwide. What started as an uncle tutoring his nieces and nephews can become a global learning resource of enormous potential. Want a glimpse of our global future? Take a look at the Khan Academy team, which features a “Dean Of Translations.”

What curriculum does Sal Khan follow?

The simple answer is none. I believe that someone who truly understands the core concepts will thrive academically regardless of the curricular context. To take it a step further, I believe that someone who experiences the joy and satisfaction of true understanding will never again be satisfied with the superficial type of learning that most students have grown accustomed to. The Khan Academy is about placing deep understanding above anything else.

Salman Khan’s vision and commitment align well with Dr. Randy Bass’s recent work on “The Problem of Learning in the Postcourse Era,” which Bass presented at the 2011 meeting of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. That presentation may be viewed here (Microsoft Silverlight download required for viewing). PowerPoint slides and an audio podcast of the talk are available here. The abstract of Dr. Bass’s talk follows:

Higher education teaching practices (and curricula) sit at the potentially tense convergence of the power of experiential, ubiquitous and social learning on the one hand and rising pressure to assess and demonstrate evidence of student learning in increasingly visible ways on the other. In this context, what are some of the new and emerging ways we can see evidence of impact of digital learning technologies in the classroom and in student work? Are the places to look changing and are they at variance with conventional curricular structures that privilege courses and the formal curriculum as the center of the undergraduate experience? How might various social media tools help capture “thin slices” of student thinking and longer narratives of intellectual and social development?

What else will change in the ways information and communication technologies (ICT) in 2020 will support blended and entirely online learning? As synchronous, asynchronous, co-located, and physically separate learners and learning environments support increased access and lower cost in higher education, where are the biggest obstacles and the greatest opportunities, if deep learning is the goal?

  • Current interactive video conference technologies leave much to be desired because “reading” the body language and nuanced non-verbal communication among students at remote sites is difficult.
  • In 2020, very high resolution cameras, 3D projectors, and highly functional SmartBoards will help us achieve richly immersive telepresence, Such tools will allow learners to interact in three-dimensional sight and sound. They will include haptic devices that offer touch sensitivity and tactile, even kinesthetic feedback. Learners will be able to capture, share, and publish materials generated both in and beyond scheduled class meetings.
  • Perhaps “distance education” classrooms of 2011 will become learning sites where we will also be able to have all off-site participants be “present” via their own hologram.
  • Teachers (and students) in those settings need to be “untethered” from podiums and seats to simulate more of the mobility that is possible in F2F settings;
  • What if there was an entire wall of monitors? Such an interactive “video wall” would allow every participant to plug into a wall of monitors and see all other participants as well as the instructor. Participants could work with remote colleagues with more fluidity than occurs currently.  This kind of evolution would disrupt the static, one-student-speaks-at-a-time and one-face-on-screen-at-a-time system as it too often operates now.
  • If course content is not delivered by a single professor, but curated from multiple sources by a team of content experts, instructional designers, and the learners themselves, how will we track and assess the work done within a course of study by an accredited degree-granting institution? Will degrees and accreditation become less institution-centered? If so, how will we ensure quality control and learner choice?

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