What is the role of the single teacher in a classroom in a world where millions of potential teachers are now a few keystrokes away on a laptop or phone?
To ask that question seriously, you have to buy into the premise of “millions of teachers” (if not billions) being within reach online. You have to be open to the idea that physical space teachers are no longer the smartest people in the room when it comes to content and curriculum if that room has access to the Web. And you also have to see that development as a) pretty amazing, and b) great for learners (read: kids.)
I fully realize that all of that is a tough sell for a lot of educators who pride themselves on knowing their stuff and having developed expertise in any given subject area. It doesn’t comport with the traditional narrative of what teachers are and do in the classroom. Some, when they consider that shift, feel devalued and, in some cases, insulted. I’ve gotten this feedback in many of my workshops where I press this idea, and, it’s an understandable response.
Nonetheless, I think it’s becoming more and more clear that in modern classrooms, the role and perceived value of the teacher needs to change. From a content and skills standpoint, why wouldn’t we expect teachers to connect their students to the smartest, most experienced experts they can find online? (Here’s a story of my own experience of doing that when I was in the classroom.) And why wouldn’t we see the primary value of a classroom teacher to be a) understanding each individual child for who they are as a learner, and b) using that understanding to help them develop as even more powerful learners on their own?
That’s the idea that Jane Hart applies to adult learners in the workplace in her great post titled “The case for the new role of a Modern Learning Advisor.” For a long time, Jane has been one of the experts that I have learned from when it comes to learning. And I think this idea of “advisor” has a great deal of resonance for school classrooms as well.
The role of the Modern Learning Advisor is about building and supporting self-reliant and self-sufficient modern professionals who make the most of, and learn from all kinds of experiences and opportunities to self-improve and self-develop. It’s not about designing, delivering or managing learning for them.
Her basic premise is that “modern professionals” learn in many new and different ways, not just at work. And because of that, the idea of centrally managing the design and delivery of “courses” is increasingly ineffective. I would describe this as the responsibility for the learning moving away from the institution to learners themselves. As Jane suggests, despite some tweaks to the ways we think about the roles, “fundamentally their work is the same as it has always been – designing, delivering and managing learning.”
And that is an apt description of school as we still know it. (Though, I might argue, the work may be more about designing, delivering, and managing education, not learning.)
“Same as it has always been” no longer cuts it, however:
But this standard approach is no longer enough in the modern workplace; there is now need for a more modern approach of enabling and supporting learning, where individuals manage their own self-improvement and self-development. This new approach requires a new role: a Modern Learning Advisor.
Again, I know she’s talking here about workplace learning, but I think the parallels to school are powerful. I’m going to tweak here language a bit to make it school centric, but here’s a list of roles for the Modern Learning Advisor:
- Help students grow their learning networks
- Help students learn something new every day
- Help students keep up to date with their interests and passions
- Help students manage their own self-development
- Help students manage their own learning personally, using their own tools
- Help students learn with and from their peers as a part of their daily work
- Help students learn from the work they do (problem solving, feedback, etc.)
- Help students build a continuous learning mindset
- Support informal/social mentoring
I’d challenge you to make the case why all of that isn’t now required regular activity in the context of the modern, connected world.
Neither Jane nor I are suggesting that there isn’t a need or a use for some practice that aligns more with the traditional way of thinking about learning.
But it is not either/or approach. It’s NOT either the traditional approach or the modern approach. There is room for both approaches, particularly there will still be a need for the design and management of essential (e.g. compliance, and regulatory) training. However, introducing the new work of a Modern Learning Advisor, will mean that there are many more opportunities to help individuals learn in the modern workplace.
That said, schools today are still weighted heavily toward the traditional approach, because most are not willing to meaningfully expand the agency that learners have over their own learning. If nothing else, we should be thinking and talking about this, about how the new realities of the world require different thinking and doing and defining, especially in the context of the roles the adults play in the classroom.