The future of education will be open and distributed

Distributed LearningAny learning that allows instructor, students, and content to be located in different locations so that instruction and learning occur independent of time and place; often used synonymously with the term “Distance learning”. (Source)

Previously I’ve said,

Let’s take a ‘T.R.I.P. into the Future’ looking at some changes that are shifting learning in a way not possible just a few years ago. Here are 4 trends that education is moving towards: Greater Transparency, greater Responsibility, greater Individualization and greater Permanence.

"Future of Education - Trends"

Now I’ll add to that ‘Open and Distributed’… but what I’m ultimately talking about is greater Individualization with greater Responsibility on both schools and students.

Within 5 years, every student from Grade 6 or 7 right up to
Grade 12 will be involved in some level of distributed learning.

I’m also not just talking about Distributed Learning but, more specifically…

Blended learning – Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; (Source)

Blended learning is what will define good schools in the future.

I currently work in our Open Learning school and my principal, Stephen Whiffin, is always thinking about how we can create a ‘continuum of service’ for our students. We don’t want to see students taking all their courses online, but we do want to see a seamless learning program offered to students who struggle for any number of reasons to have their entire high school program delivered out of a brick and mortar school.

So, the current model is to see what we can do to ‘fill the gaps’, but what I’m arguing here is that we can, and in the near future will, provide every child with a blended experience. Rather than just meeting circumstantial needs of certain students, I’m talking about embedding blended and distributed learning into the programs of every student to take advantage of some latent needs that we tend not to serve in most schools.

What are some of the game changers that make this possible, or dare I say inevitable?

Here are some thoughts:

1. BYO Laptop to school. Every student linked to the cloud, linked to the world, and not having to wait to get into a computer lab. The thought of school districts buying laptops for students is archaic in design and simply too expensive to maintain. In school I had to buy a calculator for Math and anyone who couldn’t afford one had one provided to them by the school… The BYO Laptop model is an affordable and a realistic solution to providing connectivity. I also bet there is hardly a school, even in the poorest of neighborhoods, across North America that couldn’t get corporate funding to help support needy families in this approach. Once all students are fully connected, there is no longer a need for the student to be completely tied to a class schedule.

2. Mobile phones. See Chris Kennedy’s TedxUBC Talk and think about how learning can go mobile:

The real world is indeed addictive and engaging. Why does learning need to be tied to a building?

3. Automated & individualized feedback for students learning at their own pace. See Salman Kahn’s TedTalk, (Linked to the 8:14 point, or you can go to the 11:11 point to see how teachers can use this). When teachers do meet with students they won’t be teaching 30 students a lesson only 5 or 6 of them really need, instead students will receive individualized and/or remedial attention based on their learning needs… increasing the ‘Student to valuable human time with the teacher ratio’, (14:54).

4. Language Learning. Why on earth would we want students to wait until Grade 10 to start learning a second language? Why wouldn’t we provide students who already speak a second language at home with an opportunity to learn their other language(s) in a middle (or even elementary) school? We can’t have Spanish, Farsi, and Mandarin teachers at all schools, but we can have one teacher who teaches a language online to all students in a district… who also offers an after-school language lab for students who wish to interact face-to-face with other students learning along with them.

5. Athletics & Arts. Young athletes, musicians, and performers will often miss hours of school time in order to train in their areas of intense focus and practice. Why does their schooling need to be ‘missed’ just because they are not in a specific, physical school setting?

6. Travel. Whether on a world adventure or following working parents for a 2-year offshore stint, why should students uproot their graduation plans or lose credits because foreign courses don’t transfer neatly into a graduation program?

7. Work & Family Needs. Some teens need to work to support their families. Some young students help raise their even younger siblings. Some teens have to raise their own children. Why allow school blocks and fixed timetables to limit the boundaries of their learning?

These are just seven of a myriad of things that make distributed and/or blended learning appealing and necessary. What others have I missed? What opportunities lay before us when we de-construct school timetables and when we make room for opportunities untied to fixed times and locations within our schools?

The future of education will be open and distributed.

We owe this to our students, with all their individualized learning needs.


[Cross-posted on David Truss :: Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts]

13 comments for “The future of education will be open and distributed

  1. David Bittner
    October 10, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Great post. I completely agree with you. With distributed learning, teachers could host several subjects in one learning lab. Instead of English I, II, III, or IV classes, just have one English Lab with one or more qualified English teachers to assist all students as needed. This could work for several subjects and allow for students to work at their own pace. Suddenly, the walls and time constraints of semesters disappear, and the pace of a class depends on the speed and intelligence of a learner.

  2. October 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    This trend is exemplified by, a website that compiles the best educational videos available on Youtube in an organized, easy to find way for you to watch and

    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these
    materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of
    irrelevant search results.

    The website also enhances the experience using other means such as
    recommending related videos, wikipedia content and so on.

  3. Sharon Tabor
    February 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Most of this dialogue assumes all children will be part of the same economic status within stable family structures with the ability to funds the technical components required for this learning/teaching style. Until every parent is earning a livelihood at least 3x greater than minimum wage, and the current average mean of household earnings becomes the minimum, this type of learning will leave a huge portion of our future at a disadvantage; further distorting and pushing further apart the low, middle and upper class division of society, leaving the American dream of a better life through a good education as a myth no longer achievable.

    Another problem with this mode of teaching is the removal of social interaction – an integral part of the maturation and learning process of all living creatures.

    • February 18, 2012 at 8:48 am

      Hi Sharon,

      I don’t think that this dialogue assumes that all children will be part of the same economic status. If we waited for that, well, unfortunately this will never happen.

      Above and beyond points 1 and 7 above, #2 mentions Mobile devices and I know that even in poor neighbourhoods, many students are bringing wireless-able mobile devices to school. I think that technology combined with open, distributed learning will soon be a great equalizer in education and without it, the divide will surely (and sadly) increase.

      Also, I’m not advocating for online learning devoid of social interaction. In fact, much of what I’ve been reading and learning about has suggested that blended learning is where we are headed in the future. It’s not like I’m suggesting schools be replaced… far from it! Rather, technology will make teaching different, with teachers having more valuable feedback about student progress and providing them with opportunities to differentiate the learning to meet student needs, be they learning needs, social/emotional needs or even economic needs… Think of #7 above where a student must work to support his/her family, but is still connected to school and getting support digitally when work/family requirements don’t allow them to get to school. When this student can get to school, time is spent meeting needs and creating future learning opportunities… not trying to fit this kid back into a class of 30 going at the same pace.

      Hope that clarifies some of the points for you… if not, I encourage further discussion. Sorry for the slow response.

  4. blank
    September 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    There is many children that would not be able to use this much of electronic many kids would get queesy from that and the need for glasses would severly increase

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *