Last fall I looked for a tutor for a specific academic subject for my child, at her request. Not a group class with three hours a week. Not one on blackboard with a posted syllabus. Just a someone to meet her where she was at and go from there: discussion, learning, progress down a nonlinear but engaging path of learning.
As it turned out, this was hard to find! Online learning platforms have not yet cracked the code of uniting educated humans with curious, uneducated, other humans. Youtube is amazing, but circular and difficult to move from beginner to advance in a discernible path. We’re still waiting for platforms that simply help students who have an interest in something (say—biology with an emphasis on dissection, or astrophysics) to connect to the person who has that speciality and is willing to teach about it, for a fee. Outschool is very a nice option for finding unique instructors, but it has skewed away from serious academic subjects and into many wonderful more hobby-like focuses. And the other current options are more school-like in their approach, meaning they’ve created whole systems of grading, assignments, class structures.
And this is where AI, such a topic of recent conversation in the news, could step in. For one, we can imagine that it could be vastly more affordable than hiring individual tutors for students. Second, it could watch for common missteps that disrupt the learning progression—i.e. catching the equivalent of one missed classed because of a sick day, and the kid spends a week or two trying to understand diagramming/the meaning of an adjective/how to translate verbs. An AI tutor program could catch this missed knowledge within a question or two, and circle back to catch the student up (without the associated shame in asking a “dumb question” in a classroom).
Third, it could correct for different learning types—covering the bases more fully for auditory processors, readers, visual learners, etc. One can imagine toggling between answers based on the ideal method of learning.
Fourth, it could drastically reduce the distraction that comes about from students sharing a classroom while learning.
These are exciting prospects to think about.
Interested parties in this household are having fun asking AI some questions on ChatGTP. It’s way better than google, and useful as a third reasoner in the room. We’ve asked it to explain the difference between asteroids and planets. We’ve asked it to summarize confusing email chains. I’ve used it to come up with expressions that are on the tip of my tongue, but eluding the old foggy brain, while writing. Joe and I couldn’t decide which coffee bean combo was the better deal (ounces/price/different sizes/distracted by branding). We plugged the numbers into the chat for a frank solution.
As educators of the next generation, it feels important to have an understanding on how AI is developing and what will work in tandem with it. This work is fun when it means Chatting with AI. (To try it you’ll have to register, and then click that link again to bring up the chat.)
Online Education Platforms
I recently attended a “Harnessing the Power of Online Education” breakout session while attending a Classical education conference (which was lovely, by the way). The speaker was an executive from an online education platform. He stated that his company does not offer classes for kids younger than 13, saying,“They should be with the parent until that age.” I nearly fell out of my chair.
I was taken aback by both the inadequacies of his background in today’s online offerings—either he was willfully ignorant, or willfully obstructive to parents finding resources other than his own company (whose byline was listed in the program); and by his assertion that kids younger than 13 couldn’t benefit from the offerings. Had he been interested, I could have shared that kids as young as 8 are enjoying deeply-engaging, teacher-led online language education.
Here’s a summary of the online education platforms I am currently familiar with:
Outschool: THE go-to for an enormous variety of subjects: drawing, cartooning, coding, fan fiction, fan art, video editing, ballet,…everything! We’ve found some wonderful instructors here, and I love that kids can explore their passions, find a good fit, and just try it, with the smallest commitment. Outschool offers parents the chance to give their student an “allowance” so they can try out classes at their own initiative. So smart.
Code Combat: pairs coding tutors with students in a one-on-one classes that use games and conversation to learn. Typically scheduled for 1hr a week at the hours that work for you. Great program.
Synthesis: weekly 1hr classes that emphasize collaborative problem solving. Groups of 4-10 kids are encouraged by one or two facilitators through that week’s challenge. Synthesis emphasizes having the kids constantly handle new puzzles and challenge and encouraging conversation and initiative. The work is play-based, and failing/trying again is the norm. $50/wk for the scheduled 1hr class and as many addition sessions as the student may want to sign up for (Synthesis’ targeted amount of play is 2-3hrs a week). This is certainly expensive and they have a goal of making this more affordable. From our experience, I think they are worth it, even if you only try it for a couple of months.
the Well Trained Mind Academy: a Classical approach to Classical subjects for sixth grade on up. They use Blackboard, a dated platform that doesn’t facilitate good in-class relationships among the students.
Schole: Classical schooling model that emphasizes “restful learning,” as well as in-class friendships among the students. Schole encourage the students to think about how they are becoming better students both morally (prudence, patience, diligence, etc) and academically. Schole, on the whole, is cheaper than the Well Trained Mind Academy.
Kepler: Kepler helps you find tutors for specific subjects. The teacher themself sets up the structure, schedule, homework, etc for each class. This is a smart idea for a platform and I’m sure their offerings will grow over time.
Please remark in the Comments if there is an online learning platform that you love that I’ve missed.
For Discussion: The Community Schoolhouse
So the power of homeschooling is that the student can progress at their own pace, right? And equally important to the homeschooler is the belief that students are naturally motivated to learn. Classical homeschoolers go so far as to say children younger than 12 actually crave learning and enjoy memorizing facts.
But many worry that they cannot offer the right resources at the appropriate time for their student. Moreover, many resources/knowledge progressions are locked behind curriculums that are expensive and require the parent/teacher to read them, then parrot the knowledge to the student. Gate-kept behind a teacher & student availability/hour of the day it can be difficult to truly realize what the student is currently most engaged in, and ready to learn at a rapid pace.
So AI could meet us there, and move the learning target forward at the pace the student sets.
Natural next question: what then do government-funded safe spaces for youth look like?
Imagine a workforce empowered by knowing that in addition to learning as much as they possibly can, their children had…
adult monitors (i.e. day care, for all ages) for 12 hours of the day,
time learning on the internet on desktops that were monitored for safety and age appropriateness,
time with peers,
time outside in nature.
What else would you love from a community schoolhouse?
Did you try Schole? Was the platform more engaging than well trained mind? I’ve been contemplating a class there for my kiddo. Thanks!
have you heard of skype a scientist? i haven't used it yet but it looks intriguing! their live events are free, too. https://www.skypeascientist.com/