Without question, technology has permeated every area of our lives, forever changing the way that people interact and communicate.

However, while education has seen plenty of innovation since the advent of the Internet, few technologies have found a way to truly disrupt the education paradigm, and improve student outcomes.

Education En Masse

The history of technology and education has largely focused around online learning. As the web became an exponential vehicle for mass communication, the emphasis has been on building virtual classrooms where students in many different places can learn all at once, without the hassle or expense of buildings or travel.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been the most widely publicized example of online learning. The principle — popularized by companies like Coursera and Khan Academy — is simple: A teacher gives an online lecture in a controlled environment that is accessible by all, and interaction between teachers and students is significantly limited.

However, while MOOCs prove to be vehicles of exponential access, they have not produced the academic outcomes or cost savings that people envisioned: The dropout rate for MOOCs is widely cited at 90 percent or higher. They have, in fact, neither improved access to university-quality education, nor have they reduced the cost of a college degree for those who lack one — two of the major hurdles for any education technology company.

So why hasn’t technology — which has been able to make so many aspects of life easier and more successful — transformed education to produce meaningful learning outcomes?

Adapting, Not Adopting

Successful technology often works because it simplifies the way people can actually get something done. In other words, it’s a tool that makes a given job easier. Many of the most hyped technologies of the last 15 years create this ease of use by cutting out the so-called middleman — e.g., travel agents, directory assistance, even hotels.

But in the case of education, that middleman happens to be the most important part of the education equation — the teacher.

The interactivity between a teacher and a student is absolutely essential to a successful online learning experience.

When you think about it, there’s not that much difference between a MOOC and a movie. And movies are fun — but they can’t substitute for the entire spectrum of the learning experience.

Numerous iterations of education technology have not produced meaningful learning outcomes because we’ve been approaching it wrong. In our quest to spread information, we’ve forgotten about the importance of insight. By removing teachers from the education equation, we risk losing out on the power of the professor-student relationship — the ability to adapt for unique situations and learning styles, and imparting the wealth of knowledge beyond the traditional lecture.

At HotChalk, we measure the effectiveness of our technology by how it can empower teachers — this ultimately leads to better outcomes for students. Our approach includes personal engagement with seasoned educators to create online learning environments where small cohorts of students can interact directly with teachers.

We believe that there is simply no replacing the human dynamic that enables true learning to occur. As such, it’s time we make technology work harder for our teachers, rather than making them obsolete.

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