My opinion on the subject of online education has evolved over the past ten years. In part, it’s because the technology is catching up to the previously unique aspects of in-person education, and in part, it’s because I’ve benefitted both as a student and teacher using online tools.
In 2010 and 2011, I ran a Latin and Greek tutoring business. I found that I could not keep up with demand and that travel time was eating into my profits. I think if I had kept at it a little longer, one way to manage this would have been to raise my rates.
The other way to maximize my productivity would be to take the travel out of the equation. I worked with a great homeschooling family who lived a good distance from my home, so traveling to work with them was costing me about an hour a day. I took what I thought was a big risk at the time and asked if they would be willing to work with me via Skype.
They agreed. It didn’t take me very long to realize that if I could find other like-minded teachers, we could actually start our own online school. I chickened out on that dream, and went back to teaching in a conventional school setting.
I’m glad that by now, there are some really excellent online options for classical education. I hope that more teachers will begin to feel empowered to start their own schools, eliminating (or at least significantly reducing) the overhead by leveraging technology. Students will benefit from the increased innovation and customization that will be unleashed.
In-person education will always have a place. But the increasing pressure on mediocre or poorly-differentiated schools and institutions of higher education will mean that we’ll see more close, merge, or evolve.
The in-person education of the future will look a lot like the kind of settings that would have been familiar to previous generations – tutor-led small groups, specialized curriculum, and opportunities for students to engage in apprenticeships during the day.
Teachers can and should be excited about these changes that are shifting the power away from administrators and that will allow them to become artists and entrepreneurs. Families will be able to better match their child’s education to their abilities and interests.
So, yes, my opinions about online education have evolved. The problems with the status quo are so fundamental and pervasive that I don’t think they can truly be solved from within the system. I’m open to being proven wrong about that, too. If you care about increasing opportunities for students, I hope you’ll engage with others from a place of learning and humility. We owe that to the future.