Turning Teachers From Lecturers Into Coaches

January 17th, 2012

There are new key trends that I see emerging in education enabled by advancing technology: namely decentralization and gamification. By understanding these trends, it is much easier to imagine why we won’t need teachers or why we can free up today’s teachers to be mentors and coaches. Software can free teachers to have more human relationships by giving them the time to be guidance counselors and friends to young kids instead of being lecturers who talk at them.  This last possibility is very important—in addition to learning, schools enable critical social development for children through teacher student relationships and interacting with other children—classrooms of peers and teachers provide much more than math lessons.  And by freeing up teachers’ time, technology can lead to increased social development rather than less as many assume. . . .

I am particularly excited about the possibilities when high school education moves from teachers talking uniformly to bored A students and clueless D students, fifty to a class, to individual, gamified, and adaptive-difficulty systems, that leverage our social inclinations as demonstrated by Facebook. Imagine friends helping us understanding subjects while they also understand our context.  Both the students helping and the ones being helped are likely to understand the subject matter better in myview.  And with points and stars and badges and the like both are likely to want to spend more time participating, and will be more motivated when they do participate compared to today’s average classroom. Add reputation systems to that and one has the beginnings of a revolution. The content to train the trainers will be produced by some of the top 20% of teachers, and over time technology will multiply the impact and reach of these top teachers, motivating the rest of the best to participate as well. Other motivated teachers can feel free to jump in while the rest can go enjoy their favorite TV show. . . .

More importantly, they were then able to teach themselves and others in their community. Children have the natural ability to learn and teach. With socialization, big data analytics and gamification as helpful tools, the future of education lies in providing children with an environment in which they can learn in their own way, at their own pace, and their preferred style/methodology/modality. I suspect they will still be able to meet any state or university curriculum standards. I could even imagine each university defining its own standards, providing the ultimate customization that no typical school today could. We may not need as many doctors as we have today but I suspect there is still a major role for the 80% of teachers who are not in the top 20%. They can provide the “human touch” and be mentors and coaches. Maybe teaching will become interesting enough to attract more teachers!

 So is it possible to imagine solving the healthcare and education problems without doctors and teachers in their traditional roles within a decade or two or three? (Timing is always far off and the technologists always over-estimate the near term while underestimating the long-term because of the exponential nature of progress that builds on each previous step). As I’ve mentioned before, if computers can drive cars and master all the knowledge required to win Jeopardy, then surely it won’t be long before they will be able to diagnose disease and teach high school. With more and more data, these teaching and healing algorithms will keep improving and will free up human teachers and doctors to do what they do best.
This parallels a lot of what the Khan Academy preaches.