Home > ICT, Learning Games, Teaching > Learning.com, Virtual Curriculum Marketplaces, and the failure of Walled Gardens

Learning.com, Virtual Curriculum Marketplaces, and the failure of Walled Gardens

Hmm. I’ll start by saying that I am not a Luddite. If you have read a few of my blog posts, then you already know this.

I have also been a fan of Learning.com for quite a number of years, despite a failed project in Japan with the company more than 5 years ago. Their EasyTech products are wonderful.

I understand and believe that Learning.com – and others – can and do provide great educational technology resources and curriculum materials for students and teachers. I am also aware that the video clip is a marketing tool.

I am also an advocate for technology in learning, in schools, by and for students, and used by faculty in classrooms. I have used a wide variety of technologies, both proprietary and open. I also understand and agree that schools, teachers, and parents have a responsibility to provide good, safe, secure, and appropriate resources for the education of children.

But watching both clips, I cannot help but feel that there is something wrong with limiting technology-based education to what is provided in a virtual vending machine. That vending machine may contain more than the 25 buttons on a beverage machine and may even resemble a curriculum convenience store more than the metaphor used in the video suggests. But any just-in-time process for passing on skills, knowledge, experience, and understanding is based on the misguided principle that most of what should be passed on to schoolchildren is already known and can be planned.

I cannot help but cringe at this suggestion. I think that most of what we need is uncertain. Most knowledge is unknown. The most promising things we can teach in schools and to our children is the determination to prepare for uncertainty and the courage to undertake adventure. For this, we must resist the temptation to create walled gardens – no matter how vast – and build the environments in which we can ensure the greatest safety from hazards while allowing our children to take on risks and overcome challenges.

  1. September 21, 2011 at 1:21 AM

    Thanks for posting the Learning.com videos and the thoughtful comments. In fact, we agree with you. Research shows the majority of teachers regularly search the Web for supplemental materials to provide their students with engaging and educationally appropriate learning experiences. It is the teacher who makes the decision what to include in a lesson or project, based on experience, and an understanding of what students need. Our hope with Learning.com is that we provide a platform that enables teachers to find not merely just-in-time lessons, as you suggest. Rather, they find educationally relevant and standards-aligned digital materials to support their teaching, and students’ learning. Think of it not as a Walled Garden, as you suggest in your headline, but rather a Gate for teachers.

    What your comments do point out, however, is that maybe the “vending machine” metaphor is too limiting – and perhaps your garden metaphor is a far more accurate one. There are no limits to the resources teachers can put into their gardens.

    So what does the garden hold now? Our CEO, Bill Kelly, has always had the vision that Learning.com does not merely provide teachers with our own solutions (Aha!Math, Aha!Science and EasyTech). Rather we provide access through a single password to a wide array of resources from many, many exceptional education providers – some free and some for a fee – to get into the hands of teachers the best resources when they decide they need them.

    To experience this, I invite your readers to get a free Teacher Account in Learning.com – and have access to the resources, including thousands of lessons created and shared by teachers across the US. Visit http://bit.ly/nPVctR

    -Lori Callister, Learning.com

    • September 23, 2011 at 9:46 AM

      Hello Lori,

      Thank you for your detailed reply.

      First, I have always applauded your standards-aligned approach to provide digital materials for teachers. While my experience was limited to EasyTech, I think that the materials are exemplary in their construction methodology. While the management system at that time was easy to use, it was limited to the only content available at the time – EasyTech. While supplementary materials could be added by teachers, this, too, was fairly rudimentary. As you’ve added learning programs for math and science, I am certain that the “LMS” capability and the extensibility is significantly greater.

      Second, I remember Bill and Mark Tullis well. I also remember – but have trouble remembering the name of – the CTO at the time, one of the founders of Learning.com. It was through discussions primarily with Bill and the CTO that we in Japan believed that business in Japan using EasyTech and the Learning.com platform was possible. Our intention was to do this without substantial localization, which was prohibitively expensive. Thus, our intention was to supplement the content with local materials, making it relevant to a non-English environment. This kind of scenario would not have been possible without a CEO and CTO that has the vision that you refer to.

      But the concerns I raised here are, I hope, not merely semantic. The Virtual Curriculum Marketplace and, in particular, the vending machine metaphor seems, to me, not only limiting, but also somewhat condescending to the teacher. While I do realize that many teachers are overwhelmed by the plethora of materials available and are appreciative of the walled garden, enabling them to lessen their own responsibility for finding materials and defending their validity, I don’t think that this is really the most desirable approach to learning. Rather, we, as educators and facilitators to the growth of children to be responsible adult members and citizens of our world, should prepare them for the wild and terrific unknown. Educators should not only be capable of adventuring into the unknown and sometimes unkind world ourselves, but we should endeavor to enable our cares to be kind, considerate, deliberate, determined, and wise in their own journeys through life.

      The wonder of the internet world is not merely its vast and interconnected pathways of fact and fiction, but that, as data, we can easily choose to use or ignore the things we find. As educators, we should be the first to step into the current that flows from the ‘fire hydrant’, just as the firefighter is the first to jump into the raging river to save the child hanging onto a fallen tree. Certainly, we should not do so hastily, as it is frequently more prudent to throw a lifeline than to jump in headfirst into the current – one person lost is less than two. However, in learning, we are not really speaking of lives lost or saved, but of uncertain and unlimited futures being created. The more we, as educators, are willing to explore, interact, share, discuss, reassess, and rediscover content, applications, questions, unknowns, and what we do not agree with, our children may learn to be considerate of others, happy with themselves, and willing to venture forth into the world full of wonder and appreciation.

      I will set up a teacher account myself and look forward to continuing our discussion about the future of learning.


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