Digital Learning = Teacher Freedom

Horn, M.B. (2011, August 10). Why digital learning will liberate teachers. Retrieved from EducationNext, on September 22, 2011:

Image available under a Creative Commons License from DeSales University,

“Today, teachers spend a significant amount of time engaged in what we call ‘monolithic’ activities—one-size-fits-all, standardized activities that are designed to reach the mythical middle of a class of students” (Horn, 2011, n.p.), he writes. Does this sound familiar? What are TEKS exams except one-size-fits-all ways to assess student learning? Don’t many school districts use the same textbooks and worksheets, often on the same day, to make sure every student gets an identical experience?

But students aren’t identical. So many would benefit from individualized instruction, but teachers are so boxed in that “they can’t really focus on facilitating actual learning.”

Horn envisions a future where software will generate lesson plans and take care of time-consuming duties like attendance. Computers can do the actual instruction, adapting the difficulty level of math problems, for example, to the individual sitting at the computer terminal. Did you take a computerized SAT exam? Those start off with a relatively easy question that most test-takers get right. You get it right, you then get a slightly more challenging question to help the system zero in on your level of mastery. By the last few questions, the SAT is working within a margin of 20 or so points to determine the most appropriate score. Lots of computerized tutoring programs also adapt to the learner in this way.

So if a computer is doing the teaching, what do teachers do? Facilitate, the article says. Teachers design and oversee extensive collaborative projects where students apply the skills they have learned from the computer. Horn (2011) writes, “As software increasingly simplifies administrative tasks and eliminates a significant need for lesson planning and delivering one-size-fits-none lessons, there will be significantly more time for teachers to work in the ways that motivated many of them to enter teaching originally—to work one-on-one and in small groups with students on the problems where they are in fact struggling.”

Could this also help with the super-bright student who finishes his worksheets in two minutes and then, bored and still stuck in the lesson for another 15 minutes, starts flicking paper wads at his classmates? With the right computer software, he’ll get 15 more minutes of advanced work appropriate for his level. He might even help the kid sitting next to him because he feels confident and also supported in the classroom. Struggling students aren’t the only ones who could flourish.


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