Missing the Revolution

In a post this morning Will pointed me to a USA Today article that claims Khan Academy is sparking a “global tech revolution in education”. This rant is probably only an amplification of one of the great points he makes but it’s worth repeating.

Actually, there is so much wrong in this breathless, fawning collection of misguided claims that it’s hard to know where to start.  But this statement (one that Will also quotes) is an excellent summation of everything the USA Today writer gets wrong.

“Technology is doing to education what it’s done to countless other industries: disrupting it,” Hu says. “Where education once was static, bound to a textbook, now it’s moving to a global, interdisciplinary model.”

The speaker is the head of head of education technology and services for Goldman Sachs so naturally he sees school as just another “industry”.

However, what Hu totally misses is that, while the education business is certainly working hard to automate the dispensing of knowledge (or at least academic credentials), understanding and using that knowledge is a much more difficult, more personal and hands-on process.

Having students watch a video explaining some bit of information or how to execute a specific process is still static and very much bound to a textbook. Except that instead of the book carrying only text and still pictures to be read and viewed, it now has audio and video. The effect is the same, a one-way transfer of material with no opportunity for a student to interact.

There’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about the Khan Academy materials. There’s nothing revolutionary in using technology to deliver the same old classroom lectures in “bite-size and conversational” pieces with no faces.

Finally, Hu goes on to say that Khan’s success is the “best thing that can happen to this space” (another business investment term) and that the space “needs more smart people who care”.

Will is also exactly correct to call that last part total BS.