Social distancing and closing of schools during the Coronavirus outbreak have forced many students to study online. Therefore, we now get a natural experiment in different forms of study during the pandemic. Is online education the future?
The Prussian Model
The current system of public education was invented in the militaristic regime of Prussia during the 18th century. Prussia was incorporated into Germany in 1871. The Prussian model was later enthusiastically adopted by the rest of the world, including the United States, and has remained virtually unchanged ever since. You know it as the classroom model with a teacher and a blackboard in front of a large gathering of students. Typically, each class lasts a little under an hour with a rigid, predetermined schedule.
Today, most believe that without such a public school, no one would learn to read and write. The truth is that, until the 1850s, most schools in America were private, and literacy rates were high. By contrast, around one in seven Americans today are functionally illiterate. Public education does not have an impressive track record.
Although little has changed in the classrooms, computers and the internet have created new opportunities in education. A transitional example is the so-called flipped classroom. The teacher records the lecture for students to watch at home as homework, then the students spend their class time doing regular homework tasks, such as problem-solving. Not only do most students report that they prefer this model, but their grades also tend to improve.
Since the government controls public education, these other styles of learning aren’t usually allowed. In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, however, many schools are temporarily closing their physical locations and turning to online lectures.
When things return to normal, millions of students across the West will, for the first time, have been exposed to online education. That experience may kickstart interest in homeschooling and other alternative forms of learning.
The online revolution is coming at just the time when people are growing tired of the politicization of the universities and out-of-control student debt that often come with paying for an increasingly worthless degree. Could online education restore academic diversity and quality in America?