When Harvard and MIT launch their platform for FREE college courses via computer this fall, it will mark the grand homecoming of availability of learning opportunities on a grand scale. For years teachers and instructional programmers have worked in starts and fits, bits and pieces to conjure long-distance learning formats to incorporate the potentials of computer-assisted learning. The Harvard/MIT entrance is emblematic of the pinnacle of how we can achieve greater understanding, develop our talents and integrate our possibilities from the convenience of our computers 24/7.
With the altered state of information comes the changed role of the teacher/instructor from a disseminator of information to manager of instruction. A good teacher/ mentor will be in more demand than before because she can embed the learning path with assessments, input games and interactive exercises, and guide project-based over-learning opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding and ability to relate mastery of subject material.
In the role of manager of instruction, teachers/mentors will personalize instruction in ways that enable each learner to maximize their effort in acquiring better skills and broader knowledge bases. The good coach/adviser will take account of the levels of skill and mastery of knowledge the student brings into class the first day, as well as how the student actually prefers to increase the learning – whether by visual, auditory or hands-on activities. Effective managers of learning personalize learning opportunities that adjust to each student’s strength in learning style, cognitive style and ability to perceive.
One of the beauties of computer-assisted instruction in the personalized learning path is its avoidance of conflict for the slower student who feels intimidated by the stigma of being perceived as an under-achiever. With the computer guiding the flow of information and assessment from the manager of instruction delineating the difficulty and pace of material, all students can reach a satisfying blend of appropriate challenge and uplifting skill development.
For example, a student who learns best with an interactive program on a computer but whose language skill is poor may well be best suited for a series of exercises on chompchomp.com. Check out your choice of topics and witness the recursive corrections and repeated instruction along with the rising challenge for each of these well-designed activities.
Other students do better with interactive exercises performed as a group sitting together and rehashing the choices, placing their bets and putting their faith in their mastery levels as a ‘group-think’ approach. Personalizing instruction also involves the idealized blend of challenge and mastery level. The author of Flow, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, identifies this ideal learning framework with the diagram at the top of the page. As challenge levels rise and skill levels rise, the learner enters a state of mind in which the learning seems to flow naturally, time fades away, and the mental satisfaction rises beyond the level of arousal or control into a state of complete saturation.
Computer-assisted learning enables students to participate in active and self-determined learning activities that yield concrete results and satisfy the drive for mastery. The best learning coaches will find real world applications, field trips, on-job-trainings, or job shadowing experiences for their learners to find the relevance of their fields of study in action, to enable them to envision themselves performing the tasks well and to encourage the growth such exposure can develop within the budding learner. The more active and engaged learners can become, the more growth and connection to the end product they will experience.
Computer-assisted learning and personalized instruction are rapidly changing the realm of education from the days of the one-room schoolhouse to the global classroom available at the convenience of your computer 24/7. The abilities of the teacher/ manager/coach/adviser/mentor require not just a thorough background in subject matter and learning theory, but also significant insight into student levels of mastery, cognitive style and drive for autonomy in pursuing their goals. It’s a great time to teach, to learn, to discover and to share.