Monday, January 17, 2011

Are Teachers Becoming Obsolete?

I've commented about this phenomenon before, but new information has rekindled my interest.  Technology could kill the teaching profession.  Specifically, online learning could kill teaching. 

An interesting transition is taking place.  Online learning has been around since I began teaching 12 years ago.  In the beginning, it was horrible.  Students did not especially like it AND their performance was poor. 

Over time, students seem to have warmed to the idea.  They no longer bitterly complain about the limitations of learning from a computer screen.  More importantly, their performance is improving. 

The improvement may be the result of changes in the actual online instruction, or it may represent a changing in the abilities of students.  Regardless of the reason, the improvement is significant because it legitimizes the practice.

The only piece of the puzzle remaining is standardized testing.  The moment data arises that shows students score better on standardized tests when taught using online instruction, the proponents of online instruction will have all the ammunition they need to spread it far and wide.

Of course, any teacher that values their job will object.  After all, there is little dispute that online education comes with a huge trade-off... the personal connection between teacher and student is lost.  Personally I think this is important.  I think most people would agree... except for those that determine school funding.

In the age of accountability and dwindling budgets, it will be impossible to argue against the widespread implementation of online instruction.  It is much cheaper and, once the data is produced, more effective when measured with standardized testing.

How will this affect teachers?  It makes us mostly obsolete.  In an online environment, one teacher can manage hundreds or thousands of students from a remote location.  The students can be supervised by virtually anyone for minimum wage.

Teachers will face massive layoffs.  New teachers will go unemployed.  Those that have extensive technology knowledge will be hired as the remote teachers.  The remainder will clamor for the "supervisory" positions and accept dramatic wage and benefit cuts. 

Unions will implode as membership drops and apathy continues.  Anti-labor laws will continue to be passed with fervor.  This destruction of teacher associations will further erode teacher pay and benefits.

So what is a teacher to do?  There are ultimately two options: Put your head down and ignore everything going on in the periphery, or develop a good backup plan.  Start networking.  Consider jobs that compliment online education like tutoring or materials development.  We're skilled professionals with valuable abilities... always consider how you could leverage those skills outside your current gig.

Change is inevitable.  The life teachers have lived for decades- decent pay, good benefits, good retirement plan, are more or less over.  Over the last decade, we've experienced a slowly dying profession.  The proliferation of online education will only hasten the death.  My advice- prepare for the inevitable.


  1. Funny you should post this right now as I am reading Online Education for Dummies in order to get information and help someone I know who has this weird sleep disorder and cannot attend regular class.

    I am learning all kinds of interesting things about online learning, but one of them is that the classes are taught by real teachers, and even though it is online, there is a lot of human interaction with the teacher and the other people taking the class, through skype and other real-time lecture technology.

    I am reading that it takes a certain kind of person to run a good online class, and that it is a specific kind of teaching skill in and of itself.

    So, maybe the teaching profession will morph into a new kind of art with online schooling.
    Frances (aka "Barefoot Fresca")

  2. P.S. In this video, they show an example of a teacher working with students through the computer in an online school:

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