Recently, conservatives have expressed hopes that the switch to remote learning during the time of crisis will lead to major school reform, to models that will decrease our dependence on federally funded schools. If online education approaches are improved and refined during this time of transition for schools, I wouldn’t argue against that. However, I don’t believe that this temporary switch should revolutionize the way we do education in the United States.
Students who are advanced and ready for this model will do well. However, our typical student who is struggling with literacy and other crucial academic skills will fall further behind. For example, many students have difficulty reading and/or understanding what they are reading, even in the upper grades. Their difficulties can be traced to either a lack of knowledge, lack of phonics instruction with decoding practice, or both. Technology can be a great tool to help with individualized skill practice and immediate feedback for these students; however, they will suffer from a lack of in-person instruction.
I think that individuals promoting this independent learning model may take for granted that students will be able to assimilate new information at the same rate that he/she has been able to throughout a lifetime. Unfortunately, many American kids today grow up in a home where their early verbal skills are not cultivated, and they are not provided with books or read to by parents. They arrive in Kindergarten behind their peers in vocabulary, and since vocabulary reflects acquired foundational knowledge, their learning goes downhill from there. Even for those that are given an initial boost by preschool programs start falling behind again by fourth grade. It is very difficult to overcome a home and a culture where reading and talking around the dinner table is not emphasized.
Unless very carefully organized and tracked, modeled more around traditional learning (albeit with challenging academic tasks supported and built in, including projects), many students are just going to drown in this model. It also requires self-discipline, to which many home environments are not conducive. How many of us are lacking in self-discipline at home, even when it comes to important tasks? Can you imagine what an eight-year-old or fourteen-year-old might do when asked to watch several minutes of Khan talking and writing on virtual board? They are going to find something more interesting to watch.
For me, the independent online model for your typical student is simply way better than nothing. It is not and should not be the primary future emphasis of American education.