Setting the bar high enough

I find this graph alone worth thinking about. It’s a potent reminder that a learner’s efficiency is maximized with a Socratic strategy — one learner, one teacher. Well done, apprenticeship is an ideal model. Most classroom settings are large compromises from that ideal — sometimes intentionally.

While, as Jay points out, cost can be a constraint in achieving the ideal, more often than not, the real constraint is failure of imagination. We expect so little of most classroom environments, that it doesn’t occur to us how much more is possible. Compromise is also easier when the the perspective is to minimize training costs. The goal really ought to be maximizing performance on the job. More than that, the goal ought to be to push bring typical performance up to the level of the best performers in the organization; preferably with a strategy that is a bit more robust than mere exhortation.

Are you setting the bar high enough?. “Make no little plans. They fail to stir the blood of men,” said architect Daniel Burnham. Indeed, life’s too short for mediocrity. When I hear someone say they wish their online learning were as effective as their instructor-led workshops, I wonder why they’re shooting so low. They should be aiming to make their technology-enabled learning much better than the passive classroom experience. Let’s face it, the classroom is often a mediocre learning environment.

Workflow Institute‘s Sam Adkins gave a presentation this morning [note that this presentation link downloads a 4MB java applet to do the playback] on Advanced Learning Technology Today. He showed this graph to demonstrate what’s possible.


Twenty years ago, Benjamin Bloom found that individually-tutored students performed as well as the top 2% of classroom students. Equalling this record in automated fashion has become eLearning’s Holy Grail. The Department of Defense has achieved it, but cost is rarely a constraint there. The Advanced Computer Tutoring Project at Carnegie Mellon University claims even higher performance gains among Pittsburgh high-school students studying math. Did the students like it? One swore at a teacher so she’d get kicked out of school for a couple of days — during which she learned geometry with her unrestricted time online. [Internet Time Blog]

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