Virtual classrooms may be the norm in the future

Virtual classrooms may be the norm in the future

At the 2008 Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) conference, Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and Mary Dean Barringer, chief operating officer of All Kinds of Minds, discussed how education in the United States is shifting from an emphasis on teaching to one of learning.

“There’s a focus more on students now than on schools,” explained Barringer. “…Learning is the absolute central focus. We’re moving from [focusing on] methods of teaching to how every student can learn well.”

Economically, Levine said, the U.S. is moving from an industrial society focused on process and product lines, to an information economy that cares about customizable outcomes, and the process is variable.

“We as a country have dramatically shifted,” said Levine. “Low-level jobs have gone abroad, meaning that students now require more education that ever before in history. All students must be educated. A high school diploma won’t cut it anymore. It’s a move from just-in-case education to just-in-time education.”

According to Levine, student populations are also changing. People of color are multiplying, immigration is surging, there are large numbers of multi-lingual and English language learners, more people are being diagnosed with learning disabilities, and the population is aging.

“An aging population means that more teachers will be retiring, more engineers, more scientists,” said Levine. “The population over 65 is increasing by 55 percent this year.”

Because of the economic and population changes that are occurring, Levine believes that learning materials soon will cater more to individual students, not the entire class, and that materials will not be book-based but will include every medium-visual, audio, and interactive.

Also, education will be virtualized through online classes and virtual field trips. “A class will be able to span the globe. A teacher from Texas can be teaching to students anywhere from Japan to California. A student listening from California can ask the student from Japan-through a language translation tool-what the educator just said, because he missed it. The implications are far-reaching,” said Levine.

“Why will we need to have a physical school building?” he asked.

Other changes will include the need for states and schools to redesign assessments for individual instruction, keeping in mind that individual students can come from various cultures and backgrounds. “Students who are now labeled as having learning disabilities will probably be labeled as learning differently,” said Levine.

As these changes unfold, new technology will be integrated into curricular products to teach to individual learners, and every technology will cater to various learning styles.

“Teachers will also have new roles,” explained Levine. “They will serve as diagnosticians, assessors, and prescribers.”

He continued: “We will also see a privatization of educational providers; more and more non-profit organizations such as libraries, museums, zoos, and orchestras will become curriculum and service providers; education will be offered 24-7; and finally, credited degrees will be replaced with competency credits.”

Concluded Barringer, “Teachers need to become teaching experts by knowing how to teach to every individual, to see signs of different learning and know how to successfully reach that student.”

For Barringer, educators “can’t just focus on what students don’t have, they must focus on each student’s assets and know how to cultivate those assets.”