Learning Portals… and Human Coaches

Written in response to a classmate’s vision…


These are two of the most powerful visions I’ve come across in this discussion board…

Imagine a college where students enter multimedia driven learning portals that connect them with other professors and students from around the world in an open exchange of discourse and knowledge sharing.

I’ve long dreamed of something like this, first at the school district where I was working, and now at the county office. The county has a tool which we have talked about expanding into such a concept. kitZu is the “construction paper of the 21st century, offering students high-quality copyright-friendly material for use in their digital projects. The idea is students need to study things that they cannot walk out onto the playground and take pictures of, so kitZu offers “digital kits” (provided by museums etc) for download. There are only 15 kits there now, but plans for up to 400 by September. At any rate, the underlying database tags and organizes everything by California state content standards. We have talked about expanding this engine to tag and organize all of our video conferences, streaming video, online courses, face-to-face course schedules, and other resources… so that a student or teacher would be able to not only search the database by content standard, but also be able to login and be presented with resources that are relevant to their grade level and current projects. If this were done on a grander scale (with tags for each state’s standards – and additional systems in other countries or for other reasons.)… and if it were open source… this could be a powerful tool for all schools.

Imagine a college where students log onto the college website and are greeted by an interactive student services representative (SSR) who acts as a tour guide. The SSR takes students through a web portal that provides an insiders look at the everyday activities of a chosen career and introduces them to the degrees that will prepare them for employment. Imagine the SSR arranges a career mentor who currently works in the students chosen field and provides support throughout the learner’s academic journey.

I’ve always know SSR as silent sustained reading. :)

The important thing about this idea (the student services representative) is that this is the role live people should play in a world of just-in-time on-demand learning, such as would be provided by a portal like you describe. Those who are experts in the system should coach learners in order to help connect them with content.

There would also be a need for live content experts as coaches once a student has interacted with online content and absorbed what they could on their own. (You do mention this in your original vision, too.) In this way, the worlds experts might be better able to mentor more people in more focused and effective ways. Of course, there may be a fee structure attached to this if the world’s experts are to give up their non-interactive speaking engagements… or perhaps a new generation of experts won’t be interested in talking at people. ;)

On a related note, I’ve been having some very interesting conversations with my brother, who is an actor, about the role of remote or face to face human interaction in a world of on digital demand content. There is much change… and much hard thinking… ahead of us if we are to harness both technologies and human beings to their fullest potential. But one thing that is seeming more and more self-evident to me is that we need not have students learn 18 years of specific content, but rather give them the tools to access, understand, evaluate, and use whatever content they need or are interested in.

On one hand, I don’t think we can move too fast in this respect, and on the other, I acknowledge that any large scale changes to the public schooling system will require small pilot projects and extensive careful planning. I’m not sure at all how to reconcile these two things.