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The physical classroom is a simulation—it is nothing more than a construct in which one form of learning occurs.
A classroom that contains desks, chairs, overhead projector, whiteboard, or chalkboard is, based on tradition, what we believe a learning environment should look and feel like. It is the construct with which we are most familiar. And yet, it is a simulation, a manufactured space. Consider, for example, whether a class could be taught in a field under a tree, in a booth at the local pub, or in a stairwell? Certainly, there are disciplines where this may not be possible, but is the inside of a classroom the only place in which learning occurs?
If we assume for a moment that learning can happen anywhere, what elements, or tools, would have to exist in order to ensure that learning does indeed take place? Obviously, there would still need to be engaging content and authentic learning experiences and, certainly, someone would have to curate the content and facilitate the delivery. If those elements were present in another location, or construct, would authentic learning still occur? The answer to that question is a key part of the paradigm shift that is taking place in education—that there is a sharp divide in responses goes without saying.
However, if we return to the notion that the traditional classroom is a constructed simulation, and that it is possible to learn outside of that classroom, could a different construct of the classroom—such as online learning—be developed that is better suited to dealing with the current seismic shifts in education, particularly those related to access and cost?
It is not a question to be taken lightly, and, in the end, many of the arguments for a given position are based solely on tradition and not on what might actually work—work, in this case, for a broad group of individuals and not just, “well it worked for me.”
We are, of course, left with a choice—it always comes back to a choice—red pill, or blue? One option allows us to go back to sleep—to ignore and/or resist the oncoming tide of changes in higher education. The other option forces us to travel down the rabbit hole and reimagine not only how and where learning occurs, but the entire classroom construct itself. And, without placing too fine a point on it, the decision we make over the coming years as to whether to acquiesce to the paradigm shift or not, will impact our very survival as operators in a traditionally constructed space of learning.
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