Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Blending Education for High-Octane Motivation: A Leading Thinker Sees Schools Using More Information Technology to Customize Learning and Make Them Radically Student-Centric

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Blending Education for High-Octane Motivation: A Leading Thinker Sees Schools Using More Information Technology to Customize Learning and Make Them Radically Student-Centric

Article excerpt

What will the school of tomorrow--the place that is outfitting students with 21st-century skills--look like? We know it won't be today's linear arrangement of students moving through grades and classes in lockstep; nor will it be solitary learning through a computer and screen that monitors every keystroke. Michael Horn would have it somewhere in the middle. He describes a place not unlike today's office cubes, where people work in smaller groups that change according to task, have individual responsibilities (learning), and use a heavy dose of information technology. And it is an ideal that is nonetheless radically personal in placing students at the center of their own learning.

Horn is cofounder and executive director of education of Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to education outlined in Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill, 2008), which he coauthored with Clayton M. Christensen and Curtis W. Johnson. A lesser and largely unexplored theme from Disrupting Class focused on student motivation.

Horn and his coauthors point out that while school attendance is mandatory, education is a service that students approach as consumers, and either "buy" or choose other options. Horn believes blended education--the melding of information technology-based distance learning with school attendance--may be the best way to educate students. But, blended learning will require deep changes in teacher training and teacher evaluation schemes.

KAPPAN: In Disrupting Class, you essentially said students attend school for two reasons: to make and show progress and to associate with their friends. How does blended learning turn those motivations into academic achievement?

HORN: Because students have some control over the time, place, path, and pace of blended learning, there is a huge potential to have the learning material be just above the student's level--not too hard that it demotivates them; not so easy that it's totally boring, but just above such that they can constantly be making progress.

Someone can say online learning does that, too. And they'd be right, except that a lot of students like being in school because it's fun, and they get to hang out with their friends. Blended learning very elegantly solves that problem because it occurs in a brick-and-mortar facility that is supervised and away from home. Clearly some people who do online learning in a distance setting also have great experiences with their friends, but the reality is most families have difficulty creating that type of environment, so school is important for those students. As a result, blended learning does a good job on both axes.

KAPPAN: Is there really a student motivation problem?

HORN: We don't think there is a student motivation problem. Students are plenty motivated to make progress and feel successful in their lives and to have fun with their friends. The problem is that teachers want to give students the experiences of making progress and having fun, but the system is not set up to do either of those jobs well. It's often built to fail students. For example, many of the places where they can experience success are in extracurricular activities. It's very telling that we call them extracurricular activities as opposed to being embedded in the actual experiences that we value. All too often, we think students are buying school for school's sake and that really misunderstands that students act the same way that we all act: We want to feel successful and make progress in any endeavor and so we do things that help set us up for that. So our argument is that, if we understand that fact of human nature, then we could make schooling fit those jobs such that students would attack learning with a vibrancy and excitement and thereby have much higher success rates.

HAPPAN: How can educators do this when so much of the time they get that deadeye stare from their teen students? …

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