Classroom and Online Training Are Broken... But They Fix Each Other

There's a problem with instructor-led education, and it's a problem at all levels, from first grade up through graduate school, whether it's public education or corporate training.

keyboard with tiny chairs on it

The problem?

    • People have different backgrounds
    • People learn at different speeds
    • People learn in different ways

This isn't a new problem, but it's a sticky one. Walk into any first grade class, and you'll find students who are lost because they weren't ready for the class or don't have the support they need, students who are at grade level and doing well, and students who are bored because the class is moving too slowly for them or they already know most of the material. And the same is true of large classes at any level. The best teachers manage to engage students, teach to different learning styles, and differentiate as much as possible. But it's always a delicate balancing act between covering the material and giving students individual attention.

Computer-mediated education, particularly adaptive learning, solves this problem.

    • Enables students to go at their own pace
    • Provides help where students need it the most
    • Allows extra time if a student needs it
    • Allows students to go faster and learn more if they can
    • Doesn't slow the rest of the class down or leave the rest of the class in the dust

In this way, the student's experience is individualized in a way that benefits everyone.

Adaptive learning works by tying assessment questions and teaching assets to discrete, granular objectives. Students who can breeze through the assessment questions get through the material quickly; those who struggle are shown more of the teaching assets so they can learn the material. Teachers are given data on which of their students are struggling and can use that to individuate education even more.

But there's also a problem with any computer-mediated module. In fact, it's a problem with all recorded media, even videos, textbooks, and scrolls.

Using recorded media, it is impossible to raise your hand and ask a question that the designer of the piece of media hasn't already thought of. Even Google won't show you the answer to a question no one has ever thought to include in their blog or post on YouTube. There are no TedTalks on subjects that no one has yet made a TedTalk about. But is that a problem?

Yes, it really is. And here's why: Learning is not just about adding discrete, known skills to a person's repertoire. It's partly about that, but it's also about making new connections between disparate skills, about asking questions no one has thought to ask before, about putting together new skills in a creative way to demonstrate competence. We don't yet have any computers powerful enough to help people do that. We certainly don't have standardized tests that assess that, and we aren't likely to for the foreseeable future.

Teachers can solve that problem, because teachers are able to respond to original questions and help students apply the content of the classroom to their own situation.

compass pointing to 2020

The future, at least for the next 30 years, belongs to schools, universities, and training companies that embrace both computer-mediated and human-mediated education, that combine live events with a human teacher, mentor, or coach with adaptive learning modules that allow students to go at their own pace.

The weaknesses of each approach are the strengths of the other approach. Which is why the organizations that blend both approaches are going to be the most successful over the next 20 years.

The biggest change is going to be in what teachers and instructors do. They are going to have to be more like mentors and less like lecturers.

Instructors won't be able to frog-march students through a programmed curriculum, reading PowerPoints and skipping through the interesting bits so they'll be able to finish Chapter 5 by the end of November. They won't be able to do that because AI will do that so much better.

Instead, instructors are going to have to fill in the gaps where adaptive learning and other technology-based approaches fall short, in engaging the curiosity of students, helping them answer original questions, and apply knowledge to real-life situations.

At Learning Tree International, we're partnering with Area9 to bring our expert instructor-led training together with Rhapsode, a state-of-the-art adaptive learning program. This blended approach is going to provide more opportunities for attendees to work at their own pace and get a more individualized experience in the classroom. That's what effective training is going to look like, at least for the next 20 years.