By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: online learning
Posts 1 - 2 of 2

Monday, December 6, 2010

Online Learning and the Growth of Disruptive Innovations

My first digital camera was a fixed focus Sony Mavica in about 1998 that took 0.31 megapixel pictures (640x480 pixels). I paid $750 for it and was thrilled with it!

The pictures were poor compared to a film camera and the camera was ridiculously expensive. But the pictures were plenty good enough to put on web pages.

This is typical of disruptive innovations. They start at relatively low quality, typically high prices and appeal only to niche markets. It was true of transistor radios (originally poor audio quality but portable!), calculators (fewer functions than sliderules, short battery life), mp3 players (awkward interfaces before the iPod), video recorders (expensive, heavy equipment compared to 8mm cameras), etc. The big difference with disruptive innovations is that they are on a steeper learning curve.

The reason that digital cameras replaced film cameras despite the inauspicous start represented by my Sony Mavica is that, being based on digital electronics, they had the opportunity to improve rapidly. Their price could fall and features improve at exponential rates following the technology improvement of microelectronics. In contrast, film photography improved at a much slower rate. Within a few years digital photography nearly completely replaced film photography.

What does this have to do with online learning? Today online learning is primarily applied in specialty situations: remedial tutorials, early learning, otherwise-unavailable courses. But the rate of improvement of online learning may inherit the benefits of other online technologies: cheaper servers, better displays, better PCs, faster connections, better authoring software, ever growing communities of courseware authors, ever growing communities of potential students. Compare this with the expected rate of improvement in traditional classroom education. Who will win that race?

Does the steeper learning curve of online learning compared to classroom instruction suggest that online learning will overtake classroom instruction like digital cameras overtook film cameras?

The answer to that question lies in two sub-questions:

  • Which parameters of online learning need improvement to be preferred to classroom instruction? and
  • Are those parameters likely to benefit from the rapidly-improving underlying technologies (servers, PCs, disk space, displays, author base, student base)?

What do you think?

Posted at 9:02 AM (permalink) 2 Comments View/Leave Comment Share this post with email Share this post on Facebook Share this post on Twitter Share this post on LinkedIn
Keywords: online learning


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Individualized online instruction

Clayton M. Christensen has written some very interesting books on how innovation works in business: The Innovators Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution.

More recently he applied his theories of how innovation takes hold and takes over (or doesn't) to education in Disrupting Class / How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Once again, a very interesting book. Without recapping the entire argument, let me just give the bottom line: online learning will change everything, but it won't happen by schools applying online learning to their core subjects, math, reading, language arts, science and social studies. It will begin with online remedial learning, online learning purchased by parents of struggling students, online courses on subjects that are not offered locally, online learning for home schoolers and online learning for preschoolers.

What do we know about the value of individualized instruction? Does having a personal tutor result in significantly higher student achievement than learning in a typical classroom? And, if personal tutors do help students to significantly higher achievement, why?

Suggested answers to "why" include

  1. Students can learn at their own rate
  2. Instruction can be tailored to the student's learning style
  3. Instruction content can better match student interests

Is it true that individualized instruction is superior to classroom instruction for the above three reasons? Is small group instruction (3 - 5 collaborating students) even better than individualized instruction?

Posted at 2:24 PM (permalink) 0 Comments View/Leave Comment Share this post with email Share this post on Facebook Share this post on Twitter Share this post on LinkedIn
Keywords: online learning

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