Education has dramatically changed since I was a student in the eighties and nineties. My teachers could not have even imagined doing things that are quite commonplace in classrooms today. In my content area of Spanish, my students are able to Skype and easily collaborate with students in Spanish-speaking countries around the world. I can show news clips of Mexico’s Independence celebration from the night before. I can use YouTube videos of the latest Spanish pop song (after vigorously previewing for appropriateness, of course) to really pique student interest in the language. These days, there is no excuse for world language teachers not providing authentic content in their classrooms.
Most students still learn using a method that has existed in our schools for over 100 years. In a typical classroom setting, students sit at desks in rows and the teacher “teaches” from the front of the room. The typical student has been trained since childhood for someone to give them information while listening and taking notes.
While the traditional classroom is adept at preparing students for industrial and knowledge-based jobs, it has not kept pace with preparing students for an economy that employs a greater share of workers in service and innovation-based economies.
Today, new learning methods are available to give students an expanded skill set needed for their future. Many schools today are utilizing project-based learning (PBL) and computer-based instruction in the form of online and blended learning to fill the gaps left by traditional instruction. These initiatives are expected to grow as research studies indicate that families want more technology-based instruction and less use of teacher-driven instruction.
However, given that students have been conditioned to learn in only the traditional model, schools and students typically struggle when online courses are made available. Suddenly students must control the pace of learning, show initiative, and make choices about where to invest their time and energy.