The end of the classroom (as we know it)

The classroom as we know it is no more. It happened a while back.

When coal miners went underground, they would carry a canary in a cage. If the canary was still breathing, their air supply was good. When the canary died, they knew they didn’t have enough oxygen and were in danger. For the classroom, the emergence of the Kahn Academy a few years ago was when the canary stopped breathing.

Classroom’s used to be where we went to learn. We would find teachers there, and between the teachers, their knowledge, the pictures on the wall, the small library in the classroom and the main library down the hall, we would have all that we needed. Wherever it was, at school, at university or at the business training course or leadership development programme, the classroom was where the knowledge had been gathered. This is where we found it and where learning happened. 

With the stroke of the search engine all that changed.

An example is my daughter’s school experience. Pre Kahn Academy, the teacher would prepare the lesson by gathering information and the classroom would be used to share and tell. Children would sit in wonder and listen to the facts and figures and anecdotes. 

Since the canary died, what happens in the classroom is different. Teachers are suddenly the curator of information rather than the source of information. They are the glue that makes the information come alive, or not. 

Now, rather than her teacher arriving with all the knowledge, my daughter is required to seek out the information and together they assemble it and make sense of it under the facilitation of the teacher. This is kindergarden but the same applies in the business school. Teachers assemble a topic and rather than present the information, teachers present a core message, make it interesting, engage the participants and create an environment where learning can happen. 

The new classroom requires different skills for teachers: 

  • Rather than producer of the lesson, teachers now become directors of the lesson.
  • Questions from the teacher increase the value of the experience Telling the answer decreases it.  
  • Teachers are now more a clearinghouse for knowledge than a source of knowledge.
  • Rather than always being the person with the most knowledge in the room, teachers may need to help the person with the most knowledge to share their message. 
  • Instead of conveying the knowledge, teachers now need to make the knowledge interesting. 
  • More entertainment is needed to grab the emotional attention of the class. Reciting facts doesn’t cut it anymore. 
  • As doctors are finding with patients arriving self-diagnosed, students will know more than their teachers. Teachers need the humility to accept this and to work in collaboration with smart students. 
  • “I don’t know, let’s figure it out”, is now an acceptable approach for teachers. In the past it was a sign of an unprepared teacher.
  • Facilitators would be more a more apt name than teachers. 

With the answer to any question a smartphone and a few seconds away, we may feel we no longer need a classroom. This is wrong. The classroom will always play one crucial role that technology cannot take away and that is connection. Although technology allows us to connect, the ease with which we connect is inversely proportional to the quality of our connections. A quick text message doesn’t carry the same connection value as a face to face conversation. A Skype is useful, but not the same as a cup of coffee with a friend. Yes, it is quick, but not the same.

The classroom offers valuable human connection. Deciding how to communicate in the classroom is now as important as knowing what to communicate.

The classroom of the future is an environment for learning

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Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.