Has the time for virtual learning arrived…?

The latest CFH newsletter arrived in my inbox today, with the lead article titled "Changing Tradition" in which Patrick Walsh, President of the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand describes his experience of a recent trip to Toronto, Canada. He shares his impressions of what access to ultra-fast broadband means for the students who can now choose from a wide range of learning options, only some of them from their own school.

My friends and colleagues working in schools that are a part of the the Virtual Learning Network in NZ will be pleased to see this – as this is the reality of the world they've been working in for nearly a decade. 

Walsh points to what is happening in NZ in schools like Botany Downs where more open and collaborative work spaces are being created, and changes in pedagogical approaches where students take increased responsibility for their own learning and where the teacher no longer has to direct everything.

The concept of learning in a way that is no longer bound by time and space (factors that fundamentally drive the current pedagogy of schools) was highlighted in a report I blogged about earlier this  year titled Future Work Skills, published by the Institute for the Future and the Phoenix University Research Institute.  In this report identifies the globally connected world as one its six drivers of change, stating that increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operation. The report then goes on to idenitify ten skills for the future workforce, of which virtual collaboration (defined as  ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team) is one. 

Bottom line here is, if being a part of a globally connected world is indeed a key driver of change for the future, and virtual collaboration is one of the ten key skills for participating in the workforce in the future, then our schools of today can no longer remain stuck in the mire of indecision about whether or not to provide these sorts of experiences for students. We have ample evidence in NZ that virtual schooling can provide a viable option for learners (ref again the VLN), and an increasing amount of international evidence that learning in this way provides us with confidence that levels of achievement in online programmes can be at least as good as face-to-face ones.  

Such views are supported strongly by those such as Dr. Clayton Christensen, professor at Harvard University and author of Disrupting Class, He says:

"The rise of online learning carries with it an unprecedented opportunity to transform the schooling system into a student-centric one that can affordably customize for different student needs by allowing all students to learn at their appropriate pace and path, thereby allowing each student to realize his or her fullest potential." 

He also speculates…

"I think it will not be long before people will see that those who took their education online will have learned it better than people who got it in the classroom, and that’s exciting."

I am one who shares this view – but the road ahead will not be easy, and it won't happen quickly (at least, not if it's left to the current generation of teachers, administrators and bureaucrates to implement). I welcome the contribution Patrick Walsh is making to the discourse around how we might see school transformation take place, and look forward to seeing more of this take effect in our schools in NZ. 

3 thoughts on “Has the time for virtual learning arrived…?

  1. As a current teacher and manager, I welcome this discussion too.  Just remember that not all of us are stymie -ing the changes.  We want the changes badly, we too are up against ludicrous decisions like taking the UFB past us to a local feeder primary school first, so when their graduates move to our school they  can go back in time and face SINA drip feed for the next few years!

    1. Hi Leigh – I accept the chastisement that there are indeed many teachers and managers in schools who are working positively for this sort of change, indeed, my reference to the VLN group acknowledges the work of a good number who have been working hard in this regard for the past ten years or more. My comment in the blog post was coloured by recent experiences in visiting schools where we’ve been installing VC units that have been provided through grants. When promoting the idea of collaboration and shared courses between schools I had two principals insisting I’m wasting my time because of the competitive nature of schools, and in another school I had teachers commenting that they’d prefer to have seen the money spent on more IWBs or similar classroom-based technology. For me it wasn’t so much about the technology end of the discussions – it was the fact that the vision for aspiring to a collaborative environment that allows us to see the introduction of the ‘networked school’ simply wasn’t there.
      Keep up the good work at Ruapehu – certainly one of the schools that has been moving down this track for a while.

  2. Thanks for your comments.  Yes, I think we have the advantage that if we dont collaborate with other school we are isolated completely, so we love to collaborate!  I do see schools and personnel like the ones you are talking about, though.  Onwards and upwards!  Its a great time to be in education!

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