A Possible Brilliant Future for IT Education?
What if the skills gap could be overcome by arming instructors with what The Economist calls “tightly scripted, pre-baked lessons” along with well-defined, network-based labs and hands-on exercises? That’s at least one of the logical consequences I draw from a careful reading of a Jan. 28 story in that publication titled "Education in a can."
This inspiring article explains how American online training company NewGlobe creates what it calls "powerful technology-enabled education systems." To make its fascinating but fairly lengthy story short and sweet — I highly recommend reading the original from end to end — the company’s programs have been seriously and surprisingly successful.
The formula is to equip teachers with carefully scripted lessons to deliver to students, along with all kinds of supporting materials, interactions, and activities, all to make sure the students learn what they need to in timely fashion. Based on a variety of metrics and comparisons with traditional pedagogy the approach shows amazing promise.
The early returns strongly suggest better educational outcomes across the board.
Where Does This Road Lead?
The real benefit of the approach is that it provides teachers with everything they need to get their subject matter across in the classroom. This means that less-experienced — indeed, less qualified — instructors can deliver course materials and provide genuine learning opportunities for students whether or not they themselves are IT experts.
One of the biggest problems with preparing workers for meaningful employment in the digital world is a lack of qualified instructors to interact with students and bring them up to speed. If NewGlobe’s approach will work for digital literacy, upskilling, certification training and hands-on practice — all that and more — then this approach could literally open new frontiers in IT skills and knowledge training, practice and delivery.
NewGlobe's method basically frontloads the pedagogical process. Serious time, effort and money has to go into preparing and testing course materials to make sure they work for target populations, as well as for instructors who know the basics of teaching, but who are not experts in the fields about which they are teaching.
And of course supporting those instructors (and their students) while courses are underway also becomes a major concern as well. But the evidence from The Economist story seems to support the assertion that this approach works, even for students sorely lacking in educational background and supportive infrastructures to facilitate maximum learning and development.
Thus, I have to believe, if this approach works in under-provisioned third world classrooms, it should work just about anywhere.
Requirements for Training Development and Delivery
Much of the hullaballoo around NewGlobe’s role as a for-profit developer in a market served mostly by governments and their employees (schools usually operate as arms of local, regional, state, or national entities) doesn’t really impact IT skills and knowledge delivery much. The profit motive is already present in most IT certification programs, both vendor-neutral and vendor-specific.
The real issue is in creating a method for crafting course materials that includes everything instructors need to deliver the goods: lesson plans, scripts, hands-on labs, and all kinds of work — e.g. homework, quizzes, tests, and essay topics with solutions, samples or keys to answer them. Will teachers have the tools they need to teach the subject matter adequately, or even thoroughly?
As I think about how some textbook publishers do their thing for community college use (I’ve been writing such books for Cengage since the mid-1990s, after a stint at ARG developing Microsoft CNE curriculum) it seems like the IT training and certification industry is already well on its way to providing such turnkey materials. If we could see this kind of approach adopted as a standard benchmark for IT training and certification, then that would make it much easier to propagate and deliver such materials around the world.
At any rate, it should be interesting to see whether the combination of ingredients that NewGlobe is using so successfully to reach out to primary and secondary education students can also work for aspiring IT professionals around the world. I can see it as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
We will, of course, still need to chase that rainbow down to make IT training and certification "in a can" content acquire global reach and coverage. Stay tuned!