This will (not) revolutionize education

Front view of two girls sitting at a table holding digital tablets in front of them

“The motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years, it will largely supplant, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.” – Thomas Edison 1922

In the 1930’s radio was predicted to revolutionize education. The idea was to beam in expert knowledge directly into the classroom thereby improving the quality of education for more students at lower costs.

In the 1950’s studies were conducted to determine if students preferred watching a lecture live or sitting in an adjacent room where the same lecture was being broadcasted on a television.

In the 1980’s computers were the revolutionary solution to our educational woes. While limited in capacity, their future potential was obvious.

By the turn of the century, smart boards, smartphones, and tablets began entering classrooms only to meet the same fate as technologies of the past.

Today, advances in artificial intelligence promise to revolutionize education by bringing personalized learning to all. A digital tutor of sorts. Side note… personally I don’t like the term “personalized learning.” All learning is personal. What most people seem to mean when they say “personalized learning” is individualized education. A different concept altogether.

Each wave of technology promises to improve the quality of education for more students at lower cost while requiring fewer skilled teachers. A theme common to all the proposed educational revolutions. Aspiring entrepreneurs promise “this will revolutionize education,” yet to no avail. So why has this been the case? I believe it is because many efforts have placed technology before pedagogy. The opposite should be the case.

Pedagogy before technology

By and large, students are still taught in large groups by a single teacher as the sole arbiter of information. If you view the role of the teacher as a distributor of “knowledge” (i.e. content), then technology in the classroom has faced a natural friction. Two entities competing for the same role.

So what is an alternative relationship with technology as an educator? I believe it is one of symbiosis. One in which the natural strengths of teacher and student relationships are combined with technology’s speed and breadth in personalized content delivery. Pedagogies that support this model do exist, yet they are not the norm. Look at the following image.

Students working in classroom lab


Technology here plays a supporting role to relationships and learner curiosity. NuVu Learning Studio in Cambridge Massachusetts has an incredible environment where technology is used to support the teacher’s role of mentorship and problem solving alongside students. In this context, I do believe many technologies have the power to bring alternative learning pedagogies to scale.

The role of an educator is to spark and nurture curiosity. To build strong relationships and scaffold student ownership of learning. It’s the teacher’s job to point young minds towards the right kinds of questions. Technology in this context can be incredibly powerful. So long as you understand an evolution is happening, not a revolution.