Insight: Education

Give Online Learning an Upgrade

February 21, 2019

Video lectures leave students cold. Better to have personalized, interactive courses.


School’s out for summer. School’s out forever? A lot of parents are figuring out that remote learning, forced on us by school closings, is mostly the same old, same old—teachers droning on to students, except online. Not much has changed in education since the Little Rascals’ Miss Crabtree’s one-room class in 1930.

And it’s broken. Even before Covid, more than half of incoming students at community colleges required remedial math or English courses. As former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told me, “Something’s wrong when you have rising high-school graduation rates and rising remediations.” Seriously wrong. Billions are wasted reteaching high school.

All our Zooming may be a spark. Mr. Bush insists, “We need to flip the system on its head so that time is the variable and learning is the constant—which requires a mastery-based system.” OK, a lot to unpack there. For about a decade, many schools have used “flipped” classrooms. A teacher records lectures that students watch at home, and the next day in class students discuss the lectures and do what would’ve been their “homework.” But that model only goes so far. Lectures are still dull. They don’t engage and motivate kids. Even with small class sizes, many students fall behind.

Forget flip; the flopped classroom is coming. Upend teachers, kind of, by creating a robust online learning system, filled with building blocks and snippets that students need to complete before moving on. Not lectures from your ninth-grade history teacher, Mr. Mailitin, but learning from the best teacher in your district or state or country. Many would nominate Sal Khan and his Khan Academy.

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