How Teachers are Replacing Technology & Technology is Replacing Teachers

I just read another one…one of those blog post explaining why technology will never replace teachers. My reaction was the same as it was when I read the last ten or twenty articles with the same title. “Well, of course. Who suggested that technology ever would replace teachers?” There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of blog posts on the web that explain why technology will never replace teachers.

There is a problem with many of these statement because technology has already replaced teachers. It isn’t a universal replacement, but I’ve yet to meet a serious student or scholar of education who claims that technology will universally replace teachers. It will not. As such, arguing against a mass technology takeover in education is fighting with monsters under the bed. You can exhaust yourself with such fights only to realize that you are boxing with the wind. So, what is going to happen? We don’t even need to make predictions because things have already happened. We have plenty of instances where technology has partly or fully replaced teachers, and we have others where teaches have partly or fully replaced technology. Below are ten examples of each.

Technology Replacing Teachers

  1. First we had the mass-produced book, followed by the private library, subscription library, and then public library. Each of these technologies made it possible for people to self-directed their learning, even with more complex concepts.
  2. Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Experiments show what happens when you put a connected computer in a community and the kids experiment and explore. In the absence of any teachers, students are learning significant and substantive things.
  3. Mimi Ito’s book about Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out shows the amazing things that students are learning through co-learning and personal engagement, far beyond the walls of a teacher-directed environment.
  4. There are a growing number of adaptive learning software packages and resources like Khan’s Academy that people are leveraging to learn things on their own or to supplement what they are getting from a teacher.
  5. Ever since the Internet found its way into homes and on mobile devices, learners everywhere started skipping the middle man of a teacher and looking up things for themselves.
  6. The unschooling, uncollege, and DIY movements represent a group of people who are opting for student-led learning. In lieu of a traditional teacher-led environment, they are general contractors for their own education, often empowered by current and emerging digital tools. This is not just for the people who go all out. There is a measure of DIY in most of us today.
  7. In instances where there is need to provide a mass education to a large group in a short period with constant feedback for each learner, computer-based instruction will replace teachers, at least in part. In fact, they already have. Consider the training modules required of employees around the United States. My last training on sexual harassment was via a computer, with no teacher involved.
  8. Between YouTube and the dozens of “how to” web sites, it is possible to gain skills in everything from home repair to asking for a raise at work.
  9. The growing number of services like Google Helpouts makes it possible for people to learn from experts around the world.
  10. There are hundreds of apps finding their way on our phones that help us with everything from vocabulary to fitness, learning a new language to learning statistics.

This is far from an exhaustive list. The reality is that technology has already replaced teachers in part or in full. What people previously depended upon teachers to learn, they are now learning without or with less dependence upon them. Yet, the opposite is true as well. Great teachers are playing a more important role than ever before.

Teachers Replacing Technology

From another perspective, teachers have replaced technology just as much. With the growing presence of automated grading software, adaptive learning software, educational games and simulations, and computer-based instruction; it also becomes increasingly clear what the technology can’t do.

  1. More teachers are discovering that the power of technology is freeing them up to do what a technology can’t, namely mentor and build deep and meaningful relationships. As knowledge and learning tools become ubiquitous, more teachers will come to see what students most need from them.
  2. Teachers are also seeing how they play a critical role in helping to design the teaching and learning technologies of this age. So, teachers are becomes brilliant learning design architects and the educational equivalent of event planners.
  3. There are technologies that engage the affective domain of learners, but there is another element of the affect where teachers consistently step in and for good reason. Encouragement, comfort, and appropriate words of challenge from a caring and committed teacher continues to outperform simulated efforts from technology.
  4. While some are quick to fill early childhood classrooms with devices and gadgets, it does not take long to see the superiority of a skilled teacher when it comes to helping students develop important social skills and emotional intelligence. The same can be said throughout the lifespan, and the research continues to affirm the importance of these for life and learning.
  5. As technology is helping us recognize the possibility of personalized and adaptive curriculum, more educators and educational administrators are recognizing that the industrial age technology of the past is increasingly unhelpful or unnecessary. As such, we are seeing technologies like the letter grade system being replaced with more nuanced teacher-guided assessments like narrative assessment and portfolios (even while others are pushing for a second wind of the industrial age through non-differentiated standardized tests).
  6. In some ways, the digital revolution is allowing us to connect to more teachers than ever. It isn’t just a single teacher in a classroom, but dozens or hundreds of people who help us learn. The technology may be a medium, but it is the connection with other people (formal and informal teachers) that continues to be what makes the difference.
  7. Will the real teacher please stand up? Technology is doing something interesting. Educational technologies are surfacing the true teachers around us. When the tech starts to outperform the work of a teacher, that isn’t necessarily an argument that technology is replacing teachers. Rather, it is just showing where a teacher is falling short or how teachers can better spend their time with learners.
  8. Teachers are finding themselves freed up to be role models for students. We are not preparing young people to be technologies (at least I hope not). We are helping them grow and develop as human beings; humans with different gifts, talents, abilities, and callings.
  9. How do you navigate life and learning in a digital world? A great coach can go a long way, and that is just what excellent teachers are doing for students. Sure, there are programs to teach digital citizenship, but it is becoming increasingly clear that a human guide plays an important role. Part of learning how to use technology is learning about the human-technology interaction.
  10. If anything, growth in technology has unchained and rapidly replicated the teacher. Teachers of the past and present were/are sometimes asked to act more like a technology than a teacher: disseminated information, standardized instruction, applying university policies and procedures, etc. Technologies do some of that better than teachers. So, we let the technologies do what they do well, and the unchained teacher is free to be more human than ever. After all, most of us people enjoy time with people. Maybe we don’t always enjoy a dictatorial, disinterested, and disrespectful teacher; but we never did. And in this increasingly technological age, the contrast only reinforces the value of a human presence in the lives of learners. Yet, it also raises the bar for those those humans to tap into their humanness, to invest themselves in that which humans do best.
Posted in blog, education, educational technology

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.