June 11, 2019

I am a big fan of bicycle racing.  Okay, I admit it!  Ever since Greg LeMond won the Tour de France three times in the late 1980s, I have been a fan.  I was (and still am) a fan of Lance Armstrong during his run of 7 Tour wins.  I continue to be a fan as I root for the young Americans trying to make their mark in the world of cycling.  As an avid cycling fan, I consume a lot of cycling related media.  Recently, I came across an article in Velonews that stopped me in my tracks.

In the world of cycling there are different levels of races.  You have the one-day races, the one-week races and the 3 week-long grand tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a’ Espana).  The grand tours are, by and large, considered the most prestigious events with The Tour de France being the granddaddy of them all.  The grand tours are a series of one day “stages” where a cyclists times are added up for each day and the cyclist with the quickest time wins. Cycling is also a tradition-bound sport.  Changes to the structure of the teams and the races do not occur on a whim.  For this reason, I found the article fascinating.

The Giro d’Italia is considering incorporating a “virtual” stage into its format next year.  Admittedly, the time on the stage will not “count” but the fact that they are considering it is intriguing.  Basically, what they will do is hook all of the cyclists in the race up to a GPS equipped virtual trainer and they will race against each other without moving a single inch in the real world.  By having the pros do the race in this fashion, amateur cyclists and weekend warriors will be able to “compete” with the pros (virtually).  The article highlights some criticisms from some of the pros, but that is not important for my discussion.  What I find fascinating is how the organizers of the race are incorporating technology into their organization.  They are viewing the use of technology as a disrupter.  Technology is going to be used to significantly change the structure of the fan experience.  Imagine if the education sector did the same thing for the learning experience of students!

How Incumbent Organizations Incorporate Innovative Technologies.

The education sector is awash in technological paraphernalia “designed” to improve instruction and the learner’s experience in school. Computers, IPads, interactive boards, apps of all sorts, and laptops are ubiquitous in schools today.  How well has the incorporation of these products improved the learning experience and instruction? What is the effect of the purchase, training, and integration of the technology in delivering on the promise of better experiences for learners? We must pay close attention to these questions.

According to Clayton Christensen in his book Disrupting Class, we must pay close attention to how technology is incorporated by an established sector (like education).  In most cases, the established organizations in the sector use technology to reinforce structures that are already in place.  The new technology may be innovative and different but is used to support established procedures and protocols. Organizations (in our case schools), cannot envision the possibilities for disruption that the technology holds.  Instead, the technology gets co-opted into supporting the old way of doing things.

Schools Use Technology to Support the Old Way

My fear is that our well-established sector of the economy (education) is failing to see the possibilities that technology holds to provide an entirely new learning experience for learners.  So, we still have discreet classes in our schools.  Bells still ring to move learners from one room to the next.  Grade levels still segregate students.  The master schedule still rules the day.  The incorporation of technology makes these structures more efficient…but is that what education needs right now?  Do we need to make sure the 19th-century model is more efficient, or do we need to restructure education to meet the needs of our 21st-century communities and learners?  Obviously, I believe in the latter.

Education’s “Virtual Stage”

Education and education leaders can reimagine schools and change the learning experience to meet the needs of learners.  Technology can be the catalyst for this work.  The “flipped classroom” model is an example of how education can go one step further to use technology to restructure. Flipping the classroom occurs when learners watch a video out of class so the teacher can conduct enrichment activities during class.  When the change stops at flipping the classroom in this manner, you are just making the old structure more efficient.  There is still a “sage on the stage” mentality of instruction and learners are still bundled into classrooms.  A better way of using the technology, by taking it one step further, is to assure the teacher has the skills and time to virtualize all of their instruction.  This allows for modularization of the instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  Classrooms become less important than learning spaces where teachers and students (either individually or in groups) interact with each other and the content.   

How many ways can you think of taking the use of technology one step further to use it to restructure schools?

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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