Will School Become Redundant, Too?

Do students actually need to come to school to get what we are giving them?

I’m not just being provocative. Well, a little perhaps, but not entirely. At a recent conference, after showing a variety of educational podcasts, screencasts and recorded lectures available from such free services as iTunes U, I put this question to my audience: “Why will students still come to school in the future? What will we offer them at school that they won’t be able to get online?”  The only answer offered was “credentialing”.

Once, knowledge was scarce. Students needed a local teacher to help them find the right knowledge and to explain it to them. Where else could they go? Being unschooled meant being uneducated. Not any more. Knowledge is now abundant and freely available to anyone. Now, if a student wants to learn biology, she can go online and listen to my podcasts and screencasts, or those of other biology teachers like Bozeman. If it’s maths that a student wants to learn, then McDonalds (yes, the restaurant chain) provides MathsOnline free to all Australian secondary school students.

I can hear the doubters saying “but students aren’t self-disciplined enough to seek out learning that way”. I disagree. So do the five hundred students who have downloaded my podcast this afternoon in the time it’s taken me to write this article.

When I was a teenager, the local music store was a favourite haunt! But music shops are becoming redundant because buying music online is so much more convenient.

It won’t be long before bookstores and newsagents also become redundant as books, magazines and newspapers become available for direct download to our iPads and other mobile devices.  And if you don’t believe me – Arthur Sulzberger, the Publisher of the NY Times recently said “I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years” and last week Verizon (the dominant local phone company in the USA) is reported to have asked regulators for permission to end delivery of the printed “White Pages” phone book to all New York residents!

I think schools and universities are in danger of also becoming redundant, because just as with music, there will be more choice online, it will be more convenient, cheaper and will allow kids to learn when they want, where they want, as often as they want, for as long as they want and importantly, from whom they want.

This is a trend that is only going to accelerate. As young people increasingly turn to the Internet to access a smorgasbord of some of the best teachers in the world to explain topics to them – we need to ask what we will be offering students at school that they won’t get better, cheaper and more conveniently from their online teachers?  And we have to come up with a more satisfactory answer than “credentialing”!

That’s why its so important that we reinvent ourselves as teachers, redefine what “Classroom” means and re-imagine the role school can play in the lives of our students.


18 thoughts on “Will School Become Redundant, Too?

  1. “I can hear the doubters saying “but students aren’t self-disciplined enough to seek out learning that way”. I disagree. So do the five hundred students who have downloaded my podcast this afternoon in the time it’s taken me to write this article.”

    Ha ha ha!!

  2. Social learning. Computers won’t teach you to be social, to listen while others are talking, to read different personalities and learn to work with those personalities, to wait your turn. Sure, you can read about it, but when do you put it into practice? When do you get to watch someone helping someone else out…and not just once, but many times. How do you learn to give without wanting something back?

    What about group work? Civics work? Welfare? What about getting out of your house and into the community to learn? School are hubs for all of these things, AND we deliver an education AND we keep kids safe and secure, and entertained. We give kids access to technologies they may not be able to afford, and a network beyond their economic and social structure.

    Schools teach kids how to learn, so that they can go off and become self-directed learners. School are the most important part of that learning. It’s where young minds start. Most year 9 kids could be home schooled and be doing year 11 Maths, but they’ll get smacked in the face for pushing in front of someone at the supermarket because they haven’t been trained in dealing with PEOPLE!

    School don’t have to reinvent themselves, they just have to see the great things that every school does, every day, and celebrate it.

  3. True, that. There are only some things that can be replaced by computers. They are the logical, linear, left-brain, follow-a-process-to-get-a-right-answer things. They are the remember-these-facts-and-repeat-them-on-the-test things. I think that they are still the things schools emphasise most.

  4. I love the idea of having so many children at home, stuck inside on their computers all day everyday. There is an Obesity crisis in Australia!

    Also that is assuming that these kids have computers. In my year 7 class i have 6 students who do not have a computer at home. Would these kids miss out on an education?

    Dont worry Douchy im sure we will always have a job!

  5. Im not sure if having kids sitting at tables in a classroom is doing much to solve the ‘obesity crisis’ either.

    Im not suggesting that schools will go away – or that teachers won’t be needed. My view of the future would be to let kids learn what can be learned at home (yes, on their computer), and bring them to school for the things that can best be learned in a group – pracs, PE, drama, dance, band – these things should be done in the company of others. But bringing 25 kids to school and then making them sit there and do individual work, or listen to a teacher explaining how to solve a pedigree … I don’t see that solving the obesity crisis.

    Access to computers … there was a time when many kids could not afford electronic calculators. (Teachers made the same argument about equity then!). Computers are going the same way – and fast. It was a big issue, now it’s a small one, soon it will be a non-issue. My prediction is that by this time next year, all the kids in your year 7 class will have computer access at home.

    The real issue – the BIG issue, is that we are still preparing kids for last century’s knowledge-worker economy. As Sir Ken Robinson said so nicely in his most recent TED talk, Education needs a revolution, not evolution.

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  8. I am a new teacher (science/biology/chemistry/math) and I use videos and get students to download podcasts and do online activities. Students can definately learn at home on a computer, but will they really? Students learn a lot of skills at school, such as critical thinking and ability to work with other people.

    If anything schools will expand, because we live in a society were schools are a business. To become a secruity guard now in Victoria, you are required to do a short course but a course you pay for and this demonstrates that students require a formal and structured education to gain employment. It doesn’t matter if that secruity guard had been doing secruity for over 30yrs he would still need to the course or if he found all the info online.

    Additionally, students may be downloading your podcasts, but are they being instructed to by teachers. These students are motivated and want to get good scores so they can go to university. Your podcasts are great, but they will never replace a teacher. If you made podcasts aimed at year 7 and 8, I highly doubt students would download them out of choice. As if kids could play games all day, they would.
    ICT is an excellent tool and should be included in high school education, but it will never replace it.

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  10. Love this article so much! I’ve often thought that schools will become redundant for the very reasons you’ve articulated. Sports and things that require expensive equipment (tech subjects for example) could still be handy at school as few students would have access to well equipped wood, art metal or plastics workshops. As for sitting in a classroom learning maths or science though, why not do it online?

  11. Last week I attended a screening of the films produced by my sones Year 12 Media class. They were made with equipment borrowed from and used at the school.k OK, so the technology may become cheap enough in future for them not to need a school to provide it but the films were filled with fellow students, and not just those in the media class, acting roles for each other, and their parents, gradnparents, sisters etc who also supplied homes and offices for locations, cars, clothes and all manner of props. They could nit have been made without the physical engagement of the students and their families with the school.
    Schools are not just eductational institutions: they are social institutions and, for many students primarily so, social meeting places. My son has made lasting contacts online with people he has never met but the majority, and the deepest, of his interactions online are with the friends he has made in person – at school.
    A formal education that leads to qualifications can be obtained solely online: remote learning is not new. But an education requires much more than courses and resources. Schools facilitate the human interactions essential to personal development and true learning simply but providing a space for human contact, which online experience serves to extend and enhance, not replace.

  12. Hi Douchy
    I was at the conference with AMES today at Jeff’s Shed.
    I loved what you had to say. When did my teacher training, I coached kids for thier homeword via msn and made breakthroughs with low literacy student. However I am finding it more difficult to use these technolgoies in my current TESOL job in the Adult sector.
    So saying I do have a face book link for my students where I post web links to learning activities from youtube etc.
    Now for my daughter….she completed year 12 Bio without the benefit of your podcasts. Sorry I didn’t know about it earlier, but next year she is doing two year 12 sciences and two year 12 maths, and I would appreciate your assistance. Please refer me to any good podcasts in these disciplines.
    Thanks again for your great speech today.

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  16. Hello Andrew.
    Found this great post today, and it made a great start for 2013.

    My comment from Norway is:
    It looks to me that you are talking about a “school”, not so much being an arena for explaining facts, as an arena for developing human skills.

    My students needs other students. That´s what really teaches them a lot, but I need to be a part of that conversation. I need to hear what they are reflecting. I need to understand my students understanding. This is pretty much the essens of Vygotskys thoughts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Vygotsky).

    If todays school are curious about children they both could be abel to grow together. That would make sense for both parts.

    Despite these thoughts I would like to mention that parents and the whole social – and living – society is a key part in developing human skills and knowledge.

    I think the school needs to think outside it selve. Learning and growing is an 360 degrees journey.

    So my question would be: How can schools, as they are today, manage to make the students home, family and community a curious learningspace?

    All the best and a happy new year!

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