Tuesday, January 3, 2012

You can never replace the teacher. Or can you? 10 ways to learn without teachers.

I learned nothing in school that was meaningful to me or that I used for success in life. All that just-in-case stuff was a 12-year-sentence that was wasted on me. Instead of being introduced to subjects in which I might be interested, I was turned off from them and was left without the opportunity to discover, develop, or enjoy my passions. Not only that, although I was at the top of my class, I never learned anything I was tested on. After I was forced to memorize and regurgitate onto the paper, the uninteresting, disconnected facts, stayed on the test. 

It is an embarrassment that I graduated high school retaining nothing I learned from my classes in science, social studies, English, math, or having the ability to speak a foreign language. I don’t blame myself though. I did as I was told and I excelled in the game of school. I graduated high school with honors at age 16 and graduated college with honors at 19. I was left on the other side of my diploma and degree with little knowledge, completely unprepared for a successful career, and no idea what I was truly passionate about.  

What’s worse, it took years for me to re/discover the joy of reading (about topics "I" cared about), writing (for a "real" audience), public speaking (My teacher told me I sucked), sports (The coaches said I was too small) and getting in touch with my creativity (there'd be none of that in school). Anything that I learned that was meaningful, I did not learn via someone who was paid to teach me. Instead, I learned outside of school by watching others do it, doing it, reading about it, and connecting with my personal learning network. The reality for me is that I would have been much better off without the teachers in my life weighing me down and wasting my time.  

I’m not saying no one likes or learns well in traditional school.  Ed leadership professor and blogger Jon Becker loved it. My good friend Carla loved school too. She genuinely loved tests and couldn’t wait to get to school on testing days. She loved showing off her grades and couldn’t understand why others did poorly. She enjoys reading textbooks and is a trivia wiz (she holds a Cash Cab win to her list of accolades). This method of learning works for her. Ironically this school-loving superstar earns her living today as a supermodel.  

Unlike Jon and my friend though, many of us learn more effectively without teachers and there are more and more ways to do just that. If learning was customized to allow the Jons and Carlas of the world to learn in a traditional environment and gave students like me the freedom to learn in the way that works best for us, we could certainly better allocate resources for students. So how would we learn if there were no teachers? Here are some of the ways I’ve come across recently that students are, or could be, learning without school or teachers.


1) The hologram that is playing to sold out audiences of thousands in Japan.
Could rock-star teachers be turned into holograms scheduled to come to a livingroom or classroom near you?
2) Five Ways to Give Yourself an Education That Kicks the Crap Out of the One You Got in School
We live in a world where knowledge and information are at our finger tips like never before.  Technology has leveled the playing field so that anybody with an interest and an internet connection can receive a world class education. Read about how people everywhere are learning through books, blogs, videos, podcasts, and quality online curricula.

3) M.I.T. Expands Its Free Online Courses
MIT will be allowing anyone anywhere to take M.I.T. courses online free of charge — and for the first time earn official certificates for demonstrating mastery of the subjects taught.

4) Opening Learning Initiative
The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) is an open educational resources project uses knowledge from learning science and the affordances of the web to transform instruction, significantly improve learning outcomes and to achieve significant increases in productivity in post secondary education.

5) Twelve Dozen Places to Learn Online for Free
If you’re interested in learning something new, this article is for you.  Broken down by subject and/or category, there are several top-notch self-education resources bookmarked.

6) Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves
In this provocative video Sugata Mitra challenges the notion that children need adults to learn. He suggests rather than a schooling system of indoctrination, when we accept the truth that children are quite capable of learning on their own we can focus on providing a culture of outdoctrination.
7) Educators Can Save Time When They Stop Reinventing the Wheel with OER
OER which stands for Open Educational Resources is the name of a movement working toward a common goal of providing quality courses for learning for free. At the heart of the movement toward Open Educational Resources is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general, and the Worldwide Web in particular, provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and re-use knowledge. This knowledge provides links to many OER materials.

8) e-Learning for Kids
e-Learning for Kids is a global, nonprofit foundation dedicated to fun and free learning on the Internet for children ages 5 - 12. They offer free, best-in-class courseware in math, science, reading and keyboarding; and they’re building a community for parents and educators to share innovations and insights in childhood education.

9) Life Hacker University
A list of courses available from schools like Yale, MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley that will inspire, challenge, open doors, and give you the tools to improve your life. 

10) Parents explain how their children learn on their own free of schools or teachers
Here are some excerpts:
  • My son learned to read completely on his own without me sitting there telling him what to do or how to do it. He learned to read by doing the things he loves.
  • Replicating science experiments that she watched on YouTube, writing stories on textnovel, and staying home from school to do these things became my second grade daughter's answer to her own learning needs (when her public school situation was boring her to tears). She felt she just wasted all day at school waiting to get home and start learning.
Note: You can join the conversation at our group on Facebook where we discuss learning without school here.

What Next?
As hard as it might be for some to acknowledge, when it comes to learning, teachers are not for everyone. If we are not afraid to accept this as a fact, how might we change the learning environments we provide for 21st century students?

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