Boarding school has always been about a package. Young boys and girls go away to school not only to learn information in classrooms, but also to discover something about themselves. Through the boarding school experience they grow up, make friends they will have for the rest of their lives, find mentors, overcome obstacles, discover a passion. In short boarding school transforms lives.
That package is coming unbundled.
In fact we are at the beginning not only of the unbundling of boarding school, but also of the unbundling of education in general. This process is being driven by technology and it will change how our schools look and feel in the years to come.
What does this unbundling look like? At a recent workshop for boarding school teachers I asked a simple question, “Who here has watched a YouTube video in the last month.” As you would expect almost all the hands in the room went up. Then I asked, “Keep your hand up if you watched a YouTube video because you wanted to learn something?” Almost all of the hands stayed up.
When asked what they wanted to learn the audience fired out the kinds of answers I expected, “how to knit,” “my computer didn’t work,” “how to fix a leaky faucet.” But then I heard one answer in the back of the room that made me pause, “I needed to learn how to butcher a deer.”
I chuckled and imagined the teacher in the barn with a deer, rubber gloves, and a laptop asking, “Ok, I did step three, what’s next?”
“Yep, that’s pretty much how it went,” the teacher said.
When you watch a YouTube video to learn something you are doing something profoundly different from learning in the traditional classroom:
- You are deciding what, when, and how to learn
- You need to learn something that is immediately useful to you
- You are not in a ‘classroom’ learning from a ‘teacher’
- The line between ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ is completely flexible so if you want to learn today but teach tomorrow you can
- You are learning for free
What does this mean for us as boarding school educators? On the one hand it might be scary as we imagine a future where soulless robots inject information into the brains of students. I believe this unbundling will ultimately be massively beneficial to us.
The fundamental promise of boarding school has never been about giving students information. Boarding school has always been about a transformational experience in which children become thoughtful, productive, and inspired adults. If we can use technology to do less information transfer and spend more time encouraging students to become self-directed learners engaged with content isn’t that a huge win for us?
Here’s one comforting example. MIT recently put every lecture from every professor online for free. In doing so they said something at once simple and also very profound: the least interesting part of an MIT education is the lectures. The magic of MIT is what happens on campus.
What do you think? How is technology unbundling your school? Do you need to butcher a deer? Let us know in the comments!