Remote Learning is Not the Problem — Content and Pedagogy Are.

When education’s house was set on fire in Spring of last year due to the global pandemic, a quick and hasty exit was required. Administrators of education could be forgiven for the next couple of months for just creating “pop-up” virtual school and learning on the fly — like the rest of the world.

Effectively, teachers were doing this:

Teachers are being forced to go back into a burning house to rescue a VHS player that doesn’t belong to them.

It’s now 2021. We are coming up to a year of students and teachers working with and through the ideas of remote learning, and the emotional anxiety of living in a pandemic world and the generally unchanged expectations of education means the grace period is over. And that unreflective thinking of continuing to ham fist 20th century ideas through 21st century technology, which was excused in the early going, is now an albatross around the necks of students and teachers.

Remote learning is not new. It’s new for education.

So much of the interesting mathematics I have learned the last decade has been through the internet — YouTube(Numberphile, ViHart, VSauce , etc.) and websites like +plus magazine and NRICH(which have been around for 20 years).

The medium is not the problem. The problem is the message.

And, that message and its dying, industrialized approach to learning, has now been exposed exponentially for its sterile and dehumanizing approach — especially with mathematics.

When I was asked by Dexter Learning to stream courses last year, I did so for one singular reason — and a reason that had been unavailable to me my entire teaching career. I could teach what ever I wanted. End of story.

It allowed me, for example, to spend a great amount of time with number theory with elementary children.

Here are some more course offerings from Dexter. Look at the titles.

All the streams are free. Anyone can hop on. Dexter Learning is an example of utilizing the same delivery — technology — to deliver something new, vibrant, and engaging. Truthfully, big box education was never going to have a chance. It’s only chance is to prioritise being human, and building emotional connections.

If education doesn’t spend a significant amount of resources on making its schools more human and less assembly-line, then the institution of education will be a white elephant by the end of this decade. It will have burned its opportunity to catch up with the Dexters of the world.

One of the problems is that education is still tied to the brand of standardized testing. That’s like being tied to cigarette smoking — unhealthy and really uncool. It’s first priority is to not hitch itself to that horse.

The discussion and complaints should be mostly about equity and access — do all students have access to high quality teaching and instruction. Teachers, IF given more latitude, would jump at the chance of teaching with more flexibility and creativity. And, not to ironically, making schools more human is inextricably tied to making learning more human — which is tied to making content more human.

Remote learning is here to stay. It’s the old pedagogy and content that has to go.

Author of Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics and Co-Author of Math Recess: Playful Learning in the Age of Disruption. Speaker. Amplify and Mathigon

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store