Amy Van Bergen – Meeting Outcomes

A boy in ancient Egypt is hit over the head to jog his memory during a lesson. “Thou didst beat me and knowledge entered my head." he writes on a wooden tablet. Teaching methods have since changed of course, and physical abuse is no longer tolerated in classrooms. But the idea of meeting outcomes as fast as possible remains the goal of conventional education systems. In the early 1950s, a black and white training video shows teachers how best to keep a group of students as quiet as possible in the classroom to increase productivity. Now, in the information age, the discussion of education is being revolutionized dramatically. Modern technology gives seemingly endless amounts of data to anyone with access to the internet. Personalized online learning plans are transforming education as we know it.

Being the daughter of a teacher, I always knew that education was an important value in my home. My mother showed me that learning is not confined to the classroom, and that lasting rewards are rarely marks on a report card. I have watched her work hard to support each of her students’ individual needs, while trying to meet curriculum outcomes. But the standard system puts incredible strain on teachers in this way. Class sizes grow every year and the increased workload forces more and more teachers out of the classroom. Personalized learning differs from traditional education in one key aspect. It focuses on the student rather than the institution. The child is assessed on skill set and learning behaviours, rather than age, when being taught. The old system is based on the industrial revolution model of education. Students were products, schools were factories, and government curriculums were placing growing orders for outcomes. Personalized learning flips the narrative. Students are clients, bringing their own unique interests, strengths, and goals to the table. When the concept of success means something so different for every young person, the paths available to succeed must be likewise as diverse.

I was participating in an exchange program when I first encountered the world of online learning. I had three months to teach myself grade 12 chemistry. It was then that I discovered a vast array of programs for individual study. There were videos, examples, question forums, experiments, and more. I found myself immersed in YouTube channels like SciShow, Minute Physics, and Crash Course, where teams of professionals such as historians, chemists, and artists, collaborate to produce content- rich videos for internet users. They create communities of learners from all walks of life to enjoy shared interests, ask questions, discuss ideas, and indeed, help each other with homework. Pretty soon I found myself watching more and more videos, learning more than only chemistry. According to the Crash Course official website, 60%-70% of its users aren’t enrolled in associated courses. This kind of student- initiated learning is what the traditional model has been trying to build for generations. Ironically, the traditional results actually have been catastrophic. Studies show links to lower grades, higher stress, stifled creativity, and some even claim, mental illness. With the inclusive power of technology, learning no longer needs to have these negative by-products. It’s not just Youtubers that are growing this community. Other companies such as Kahn Academy are also providing world-class education to over 10 million users. This isn’t an idea, it’s a movement.

Many people hear online learning and instantly imagine children sitting alone on computers and never building healthy social relationships. But that is not what the new model needs to look like. The use of technology is to be a helpful tool in an inclusive learning experience. When children are not told their success is defined by how well they keep up with other students’ marks, social barriers are broken. Self-esteem goes up as well. Stress levels of teachers and students alike are more manageable. Programs can allow teachers to more closely monitor the progress and learning behaviour of each student. They can observe how fast a student absorbs content and can adjust the plan accordingly. This allows students to learn at a pace that is suitable for them, without putting further strain on a teacher to move the class along as a group. The selectively social aspect of online classrooms also allows students to participate who otherwise wouldn’t be able. Children with social anxiety, health issues, or any situation are able to keep up with their studies easier without the need for physical classroom presence.

The student-centered plan can seem daunting. But it is worth all the trial and error involved in its development. The economy as a whole will benefit from the engagement of online learning. The shortage of teachers will end. When teachers know they will have access to user-friendly resources, and that students will receive the attention they need, less educators will be forced to leave their profession. The adaptability of technology will be able to keep up with the constant update in subject content. New scientific discoveries can be explored, and day-to-day politics can be easily integrated in a lesson. A student with that kind of modern learning style would be effective in the workforce because they would know the importance of lifelong learning. A generation of students with enhanced online educations would be more engaged in their learning, more likely to continue their studies, more creative in the workplace, and have higher self-confidence.

A shift this big will take time. It will take sacrifice. It will take persistence. It will take societal commitment. But looking back at the teaching practices of ancient Egypt, we’ve come a long way. The reaches of technology are progressing faster than ever before. We must harness its power to improve our education system. No one knows where this plan could truly lead the human race. But in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “The biggest risk, is not taking any risk.”