From A “Dispenser Of Knowledge” To A Coach

Did you enjoy the video on Salman Khan’s TED Talk?

I hope you did.

Because in this post, I am going to share with you my thoughts on the shifting role of the educator.  And this trend has implications not just for traditional educators, but for non-educators as well.

This change will present problems for “old school” teachers, but creates opportunities for others-even if you have not been involved in the traditional education industry.  If you were a banker, for example, and you were laid off because of Fintech (Financial Technology); and you want a way of making a living by teaching others what you know, please keep on reading.

The Flipped Classroom

So back to Sal Khan’s video.  What did you notice about the role of the teacher in the world of Khan Academy?

Most of them end up being coaches and facilitators to students.  They keep an eye on what each student is struggling with and help them with it.  This is very different from the “I know it all, so you must listen to me model”. I call it the “dispenser of knowledge” model.

Of course Sal Khan is the dispenser of knowledge through his videos.  But you just need him.  Or just his videos.  If Sal Khan can do a better job of teaching chemistry than my teacher in school, why should I listen to her?

One great teacher, and the the rest will facilitate.  This is the Flipped Classroom Model.  The student watches a video on chemistry at home.  Then he goes to school to do his “homework” and a teacher is there to help him out with it in real time.  The teacher now becomes a coach, which requires a different skill set than the traditional teaching model.

So the first reason why most teachers will have to eventually become coaches is because of convenient and economical access to high quality information and material provided directly by people like Sal Khan.

So the first reason why most teachers will have to eventually become coaches is because of convenient and economical access to high quality information and material provided directly by people like Sal Khan.

I can get great information from professors from a world class university without actually attending one.  I do not have to put up with a professor who sucks at explaining concepts to me in a way I can understand.

Some of you may say “But you still need the degree, even if your professor sucks!”  Well, I had explained in an earlier post why the value of the degree may be declining and will be replaced with an emphasis on actual skills and performance.

So if a college or university cannot offer good quality teaching, and rely only on conferring degrees that are no longer as highly prized, what are educators to do?  If they are to find a place in this new world of flipped classrooms, they have to learn to coach.

Students Are Getting Older

The second reason has to do with the aging profile of students.  Learning is becoming a lifelong necessity.  Adults are now finding that they have to go back to school more often.  And as some nations are confronted with falling birth rates, the proportion of younger students enrolling will decline.

The second reason has to do with the aging profile of students.  Learning is becoming a lifelong necessity.  Adults are now finding that they have to go back to school more often.  And as some nations are confronted with falling birth rates, the proportion of younger students enrolling will decline.

And as the classroom ages, so does the relevance of the traditional teaching model.  Teaching adults is different than teaching young students.

How To Teach Adults?

Normally we use the term “pedagogy” to describe the teaching of young students.  The teaching of adult learners however is called “andragogy”.   American educator, Malcolm Knowles, was famous for his adoption of adult learning theory.

Malcolm Knowles And Adult Learning

Knowles proposed 4 assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners that are different from the assumptions about child learners in 1980. Then in 1984, he added the 5th assumption.

  1. Self-Concept
    As a person matures his/her self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.  (Implication: Adult learners want to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their learning.  They need to be given more choices.)
  2. Adult Learner Experience
    As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.  (Implication:  Adult learning should draw on the adult learners experience e.g. mistakes.  Questions for reflection and group discussion where experiences are shared become important learning tools).
  3. Readiness to Learn
    As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.  (Implication:  Adult learners care mostly about subjects related to performing their jobs or improving their lives.  Real learning for adults is not about getting a paper qualification.  So relating the subject matter to their work and life is very important.)
  4. Orientation to Learning
    As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject- centeredness to one of problem centeredness. (Implication:  The educator needs to answer the questions “Why am I learning this?” “How does this solve my problem?”)
  5. Motivation to Learn
    As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal.  (Implication: An educator needs to tap into an adult’s inner motivation to learn.  e.g. tapping on a pain point)

I used to teach in a university.  Now I run workshops for corporate executives and professionals.  I understand what Knowles is talking about.  I discovered that as I moved from “pedagogy” (the way I taught in university) to “andragogy” (the way I am teaching adults now), the quality of learning dramatically improved in my workshops.  I moved away from being a “dispenser of knowledge” to being a coach.

Why am I sharing this with you?

If you have not noticed already, there is a big opportunity in online adult education.

In 2015, online course provider Lynda.com was bought for USD1.5 Billion.

Click here for a growth estimate of the e-learning industry.   Its big.

I talked about how technology will destroy certain jobs.  But technology also creates new ones.

Maybe you can become an online adult educator.  Many people are freelancing selling their courses on Udemy and Skillshare for example.

But to be successful at this, there are 2 requirements:

  1. You need to know how to teach adults – as more and more of adults need to keep learning.  Remember Malcolm Knowles’ assumptions about teaching adults.  Its different than teaching children.
  2. You need to differentiate yourself by finding your niche.  Because there will be many other instructors all over the world competing with you.  I am good at math but I do not think I can compete with Salman Khan in teaching math.

What is a niche?

A niche is a small and well defined segment of the market.  For example, teaching deaf people math or music!  So you need to find a segment of the market that you can serve that others can’t.  What is it you have that others don’t?  What are you unique strengths and talents?  It can be your unique life experiences or circumstances.  Even negative ones.

Think of Nick Vujicic, the no arms and no legs motivational speaker.  His story is unique.  He is different from motivational guru Anthony Robbins for example.

But isn’t a niche too small to support my livelihood?  Well that is the beauty of online education.  You can reach out to almost anyone in the world!  A niche can have many, many students.

So how do we identify a niche to serve?  This is an important question not just in the e-learning industry, but any industry!  Any business, big or small, will need to think about this question.

We will discuss this in a future post.  And I will share with you my experience about identifying my own current niche.  And some tools to help us to do so.

In Summary

The face of the educational industry will change dramatically.  One of these changes is in the role of the instructor.  This is driven a lot by technology and will present problems for “old school” teachers and institutions.  But at the same time, technology creates new opportunities.  One of these is being an instructor in the growing e-learning industry.  But being a successful online course instructor requires that you know how to teach adults and that you identify a niche to serve.

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