How The Web Is Transforming Learning, Instruction and Education

August 19, 2011


None of us would be where we are today without learning, whether it was in the form of instruction, reading, observing or doing. Thanks to the web, conventional learning models are shifting. In fact, they’re being turned upside down.

We’re discovering that knowledge and instruction can be embedded in web apps, empowering students to learn and experience at their own pace. In addition, we know that everyone is passionate about something. And just as blogging transformed individuals into publishers, the web is allowing all of us to become professional instructors. If we want to be.

Your Classroom in Your Neighborhood

Companies in this space include Skillshare (“Learn anything from anyone”) and CommuniTeach (“Teach, learn, connect”). Their services are a mashup of Meetup, eBay and Eventbrite. They turn anyone into an instructor, who can create a class on any topic.  The role of their web sites, then, is to publish courses and instructor profiles and enable students to sign up for classes – and then attend them in person.

The beauty of this model is two-fold: it can make anyone an instructor and, it creates a nearly unlimited inventory of course content – well beyond what you could find in your local community college’s adult education catalog. As CommuniTeach writes on their home page, “Can you cook? Paint? Throw a frisbee? Write? Then people want to learn from you!”

Important: Rating & Reputation Systems

There will undoubtedly be a wide variation in instructor expertise and quality, which means a key component of making these systems effective and sustainable is a rating and reputation system for instructors. eBay wouldn’t be where it is today without its detailed seller ratings. Their reputation system allowed for enforcement by the community, which is a model that scales well.

Your Classroom, Online

The “neighborhood classroom” model involves “face to face” instruction in a physical classroom. Naturally, this model requires instruction to be regionalized (i.e. the current services are being rolled out in specific cities) and synchronized (at a specific day and time). Another emerging model is the online classroom, provided by companies like Udemy and Learnable.

The online model is interesting because it enables a global audience. And, it enables instructors to leverage a combination of self-paced (on-demand) and scheduled (live) instruction. While some of us are inclined to meet local learners (in person), others may be more comfortable teaching via webcam (online).

With Udemy, for example, instructors can make their course content available to learners on-demand and they can also create a Live Virtual Classroom that supports up to 10 video participants, thousands of viewers and interactive tools (e.g. whiteboard, chat and file sharing).

Video: Overview of Udemy

Your Children’s Classroom, Online

The Khan Academy is leading the way with a learning model that may just transform primary and secondary education. This quote on their FAQ page sums it up neatly: “With just a computer and a pen-tablet-mouse, one can educate the world!” The idea behind Khan Academy started when founder Salman Khan provided math instruction to his cousins. He placed his modules on YouTube and discovered that his cousins “preferred me on YouTube than in person.”

The feedback from his cousins provided an interesting insight into the power of self-paced learning – the students could fast-forward and rewind their cousin, learning at their own pace. They could complete exercises until they became proficient, without someone at their side asking, “do you understand it now?”

Teachers who have adopted the Khan Academy model in their classrooms have inverted the model: instruction can now be done at home (via the web and YouTube), while the homework (hands-on exercises) takes place in the classroom, with more time for the teacher to provide quality instruction (one-on-one care, if needed).

With its videos, exercises, knowledge map, instructor dashboards and game mechanics, Khan Academy has built a model that led Bill Gates to say, “it’s amazing, I think you just got a glimpse at the future of education.”

Video: Salman Khan at TED 2011

Note: The quote from Bill Gates occurs at the conclusion of this video.


Blogging enabled any individual to become a publisher. While some individuals blog as a labor of love, others have left their jobs, leveraging blogging as their primary source of income. Teaching is the new blogging. While I don’t expect blogging to go away any time soon, I do believe that a revolution is underway in learning and instruction.

Just as TechCrunch and Huffington Post grew from individual blogs into publishing empires, new instructional brands will emerge, empowered by individuals. The TechCrunch of tomorrow may still have a blog, but they’ll also have a physical and digital classroom to go along with it.

Related Links

  1. Blog Posting: A Look at The Future of Online Instruction


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