The traditional classroom works, so why change it? This is something anyone involved in leading educational change hears at some stage.

The traditional classroom, where direct instruction is the primary method of teaching, does work. It has worked for decades. It has educated people who have then changed civilization in all areas; the sciences, politics, health, industry…everywhere.

However, to imply that it should not change assumes that we have reached the peak of educational techniques; that no major improvements are possible. Just because the traditional classroom “works” doesn’t mean that it has reached a peak or an optimal level of effectiveness.

A history of “peaks”

History is littered with times when humanity believed it reached a peak. The Titanic was considered the peak of boat design, until it hit an iceberg. The Swiss watch was considered the peak of watch design, until digital watch technology arrived. Change and improvements continue in every industry.

Consider just one example: the car engine. This is apt as the traditional classroom can be considered the engine that has driven education for hundreds of years.

In 1908 the world had the Model T Ford, a car that brought motorized transport to the masses. It was everywhere, just as our current schools filled with traditional classrooms are everywhere. It, and other cars like it, changed the world forever. It was viewed by many at the time as the pinnacle of success in personal transport.

It had a 177 cubic inch (2.9 liter) four cylinder four stroke engine that produced 20 bhp (brake horsepower) of power while achieving a fuel economy of about 20 miles per gallon. Yet was it really the peak of development as the masses at the time thought? A modern motor of similar size can now easily produce between 100 and 200 bhp, with some producing even more. How is this possible? The car engine has been enhanced by technology so that it still achieves the same end as the Model T motor, but it does so much more effectively. The classroom can also be enhanced by technology to become much more powerful.

The modern car engine may be superficially similar to the Model T engine, but many improvements have occurred in the ensuing years; things such as

  • Turbochargers and superchargers to create more power.
  • Fuel injection instead of a carburetor providing easier starting, increased power, a more responsive throttle and better fuel efficiency.
  • Engine blocks made of aluminium instead of cast iron (making the car lighter).
  • Overhead camshafts to provide increased performance.
  • Variable valve timing providing better fuel economy and power delivery that is more flexible.
  • Engine computers (ECU) that increase fuel economy and allow better diagnosis of problems or potential problems. Modern cars have a multitude of sensors.
  • Hybrid engines that combine petrol engines with electric motors. These provide increased fuel economy, lower emissions and a quieter travel experience.

(Next page: Traditional classroom redesign and continual improvement)

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