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How Prepared Is Too Prepared?

2010 February 22
by Richard N. Landers
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A recent article in THE Journal revealed the $300 million plan to install 3D projectors in Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District.  Why?  Because it’s the future.

While preparedness is a noble goal, this is not a good idea.  There’s no evidence that 3D projectors give students any positive learning outcomes or really even offer any benefit whatsoever to schoolchildren.  Having said that, modern 3D projection systems are an incredible technology.  But that’s all they are.

It brings to mind a tendency of businesses to adopt new technologies without 1) identifying a purpose for such a change and 2) gathering evidence that such a change would actually bring about the outcomes desired.

Let’s use web-based training systems as an example.  Online training was adopted originally because it was new and exciting – just like the 3D projectors above.  But there was no particularly compelling reason to do so.  At that time, web-based instruction was more expensive to implement than traditional instruction because of the learning curve, and additionally, access was much less common than it is now, limiting its reach.  What was the point?  There really wasn’t one.

Fast forward to today – web-based training is still being implemented, and if anything, it’s as effective as traditional instruction.  High quality instructional design still takes the front seat in terms of the magnitude of the effect.  A poorly designed web-based instructional program will most likely encourage less student learning than a well-designed lecture.

But how many job listings do you see for “corporate trainer” without keywords “web,” “Internet,” or “online?”  Virtually none.

Let this 3D projector fiasco be a reminder to us all – hype about “the future” is no reason to invest your limited funds into any organizational program.  Develop a clear picture of what your organization needs, and only then find a technology that meets your needs.  To do so in reverse is just plain silly.

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  1. Shawna permalink
    February 24, 2010

    Wow. How many teachers would $300 million hire? Or, more importantly, how many raises (just enough for teachers to feel rewarded) would it sustain?

    I wonder if the random investments are another example of increasingly treating education as a business. Businesses can do crazy stuff because it distances them from competitors, whether or not any real result follows. But…education is not a competition, and difference for the sake of difference (or technology for the sake of technology, as you point out) isn’t helpful there.

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