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Education Needs to Evolve, and Online Education is the Evolution

I happen to believe in the elegant basics of an education. As a writer, sophistication can emerge from blending discursive topics through their boundaries. If done for a story or a poem those associations or blending can be appropriately labeled, “creativity.” My creativity has brought together such diverse and far reaching associations between topics that I am often teased.  I’ll defer to Keats’ belief that poetry itself is bringing together heaven and earth in a “cage form.”

When my 3rd grader had to memorize a poem for a school assignment, the teacher had the usual suggestions for poems from the typical poets like Shel Silverstein (appropriate for children).  However, I insisted that he memorize William Wordsworth’s, “A Slumber Did my Spirit Seal” because the poem flows so effortlessly and accomplishes so much in terms of learning poetry.  In addition, the last 2 lines of the 2nd stanza in the 8 line poem, he didn’t *have* to memorize, the lines were instantly secured into his memory. As soon as he repeated those last two lines once, he had them committed to memory. That’s because this is a poem about the naturalness of death and that naturalness is reflected in the language of the last lines of the poem. It’s a poem doing double duty. It’s an amazing example of how a poem’s words are so carefully crafted as to mimic the ebb and flow of a natural occurrence such as death. This can also be done using words like, “meow” or, “oink” called onomatopoeia, or words that sound like they mean.  The last 2 lines flow so organically that they represent poetry itself (or in this case, the flow of nature). Or said another way, the 2nd nature of poetry.  If this seems like a brain teaser, it isn’t. Look up the poem and read it for yourself, you’ll be surprised at how instantaneously you’ll commit the last 2 lines of the second stanza to memory.

On the other hand, learning how to be creative isn’t distilled the same way as learning math and reading and the other fundamentals that start up a child’s education. However, there are potential methods for teaching creatively and elegantly. Fundamentals can be taught and immersed within dynamic explanations so that retrieval of the knowledge may provide productive seeds for associations.

I think that every subject should be taken and passed to its highest measure by 12th grade.  The students that learn the quickest in the class (with exceptions of those completely out of the bounds of even advanced students) should learn the same things as those that take the longest to learn (also, excluding those out of range of learning) and everyone should help one another get there. The students that acquire information seemingly the quickest should help the students that are taking the longest to learn.  In this way, the students could create a working body of information that could be used year after year. It would be interesting to see if there was a pattern that repeats itself or if new, random, different, difficulties arose.

There are messages that resonate with me with a truth bearing quality to them. I know that is completely subjective on my part and I am bringing to it my own experiences. However, you would be hard pressed to agree with the statement, “education is bad”—it’s just untrue if we are talking about say for example, learning calculus or grammar. I just read the book, “The Art of Non-Conformity” by Chris Guillebeau and I didn’t like the book for a lot of reasons, but the main source of contention for me was his description of his hodge-podged, slopped together degrees that he acquired and ultimately, he tells how he “snuck” into academia. He continues his narrative of how he passes through college and graduate school without any real knowledge or value placed on his education. Whatever other message he had for me in the book was totally lost because of this ignorant assertion about education. Most real world examples contain outliers, but his examples are joyless, depressing and wrong.

I’m all for non-conformity, I’m a mother and a competitive ski jumper. Yes, that’s right; I’m a competitive ski jumping mom. I’m also an aggressive downhill skier that believes in “putting her skis wherever she wants on moguls” and screws, “picking a line” so I feel like I can at least comment intelligently with some heft on the non-conformity topic.

On the other end of the education belief spectrum is Salman Kahn. Sal Kahn is a teacher with guru status.  Kahn was as a hedge fund analyst out of Harvard Business School and just trying to help his younger cousin with math and putting his lessons on utube. Thus are his humble beginnings in online education. Currently, he has some 2200, 10-15 minute lessons available for free on his website: www.kahnacademy.com . I encourage anyone to take one of his lessons, the Calculus sections on Polynomials are mind blowing and cover the Mathematician Leonhard Euler’s analytical operations that leave you unequivocally awestruck. Even his first chemistry lesson for high school beginners will leave you breathless as he seamlessly explains atoms and weaves his way to the beauty of quantum mechanics all in an astonishing 12 minutes. Kahn is an educator that give you chills and creates that all elusive thirst for more. I quote Bill Gates, a voracious consumer of online education said he is, “kind of jealous of Sal Kahn” and continues: 

"Unbelievable" 10- to 15-minute Khan Academy tutorials "I've been using with my kids." With admiration and surprise, the world's second-richest person noted that Khan "was a hedge fund guy making lots of money." Now, Gates said, "I'd say we've moved about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category. It was a good day his wife let him quit his job."

Kahn believes that online education is something more than hooking up computers and putting the classroom online. He wants his lectures used as homework to free up the teachers during class so that students can work on problems and get help from the teacher and the kids in class that already have the concepts mastered.  Many traditionalists wonder how all of these kids will be tested. Testing is just a matter of software. Not only does the Kahn Academy have testing software, they have a bounty of statistical information and can fine tune data so that the teacher knows exactly where each student is in relation to the information that needs to be learned. The teacher can see exactly what problem a student is stuck on and can either help that student or even better, have a peer help that has already mastered the concepts. Kahn describes current education from kindergarten through graduate school as process that produces “Swiss cheese” like holes in a student’s knowledge base. For example, if a student goes to class and gets a “one size fits all lecture”, does homework and then gets a snap-shot test of his knowledge on the subject and consistently gets 90% on those exams, after a few years those 10 percents add up and maybe by the time that same student takes calculus in high school, they’re getting D’s and F’s. In other words, smart kids are still doing poorly in the current education model. Education needs to evolve, and Online Education is the evolution and there are endless ways in which to customize the experience and fully grasp the subject matter.

For free information on online education, please visit the site: Online Degree Navigator