Scott Adams (the Dilbert comic guy) described a very interesting idea for creating a type of marketplace for online teaching tools that would allow people to find the best materials for learning each individual subject. It would also allow highly-skilled developers of online courses to make money. I think some variant of this is likely to replace our current bricks and mortar method of teaching. But the transition won’t be easy.
A critical component of online teaching tools that Adams didn’t mention is collecting student feedback in real time. Imagine if software could detect when a student looks tired or frustrated and could adapt the teaching style accordingly. This is what good tutors do and there is every reason to believe that a combination of a computer camera, microphone, and some great software could replicate some of this benefit.
A problem that online teaching tools are certain to encounter once they become a bigger threat to the enormous business of bricks and mortar teaching is changing terminology and notation. It’s common for professionals to use jargon to protect their incomes from outsiders. Teachers can easily do the same thing. Over the years that I tutored math, my biggest challenge was to determine what terminology my tutee’s teacher used so that I could match it. A teacher threatened by a particular set of online teaching tools can easily adjust some jargon and notation to make it more difficult for students to learn from the online materials. Standardized tests could easily be created with a strong bias toward jargon used in class rather than that used by the top online materials.
I don’t think this problem of jargon and notation is insurmountable, but I predict that it is one of the ways that bricks and mortar teachers will fight back in a long, drawn out, and ultimately losing battle against online teaching materials.