Like Peanut Butter and Chocolate, Digital Learning and Excellent Teachers Go Well Together

We do not doubt that the digital future will transform education along with practically everything else. But rather than seeing it as a painful (and politically volatile) trade-off between technology and teachers, we propose that digital education needs excellent teachers and that a first-rate teaching profession needs digital education.

Schools will not need as many conventional teachers as they did yesterday, but those they need will be able to tap top-notch technology and instructional support teams to achieve excellence at scale. They’ll get paid more, too, potentially a lot more. And all this can be done within tight budgets so long as education systems judiciously blend technology and people.

Digital learning has the potential to transform the teaching profession in three major ways:

  • Extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students.
  • Attracting and retaining more excellent teachers.
  • Boosting effectiveness and job options for average teachers.

Extending the reach of the best. In the digital future, teacher effectiveness will matter even more than it does today. As digital learning spreads, students worldwide will gain access to core knowledge and skills instruction. What will increasingly differentiate outcomes for schools, states, and nations is how well responsible adults carry out the more complex instructional tasks: motivating students to go the extra mile, teaching them time management, addressing social and emotional issues that affect their learning, and diagnosing problems and making the right changes when learning stalls.

The top 20 or 25 percent of teachers already meet these challenges. But in traditional classrooms, they only reach 20 to 25 percent of students. That’s where digital learning can help.

Digital technology, along with changes in teacher roles and schedules, should make it possible for top teachers to assume responsibility for all students, not just 20 or 25 percent of them

For example, by replacing 25 – 50 percent of teaching in some subjects, digital instruction can free excellent teachers’ time, enabling them to take responsibility for more students – keeping similar class sizes and gaining planning time. These “time-technology swaps” are already used in top-performing schools that combine digital learning with excellent teachers to boost results.

Digital tools can also connect excellent teachers working live with students across the hall, state, or nation – using web cameras and email. Shy instructional masters can help design smart software to personalize learning. Star performing content masters can go viral on digital video, and someday holograms, to millions of students anywhere, who with excellent teachers can convert that access into stellar learning.

Attracting and retaining the best. Digital learning will also transform career opportunities for excellent teachers. As they reach more students, they should earn more out of the per-pupil funds generated by the expanded number of students. The chance of enhanced advancement and pay will, in turn, make the profession a more attractive long-term career for top performers, wooing unfulfilled engineers and lawyers into a better life.

-Bryan Hassel and Emily Asycue Hassel

This blog entry also appears on Flypaper. It is based on “Teachers the Age of Digital Instruction,” a paper published this week by the Fordham Institute as part of its Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series.

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