Thursday, July 29, 2010

A "Tempo Marking" for the Adoption of Online Music Education

By Mark T. Burke

All new ideas take time to flourish.  Regardless if a new idea is a product or service, time is required to develop the idea, get the word out and connect the idea with folks who can really benefit from it.  In education "Largo" seems a fitting tempo marking to describe the integration of new ideas.  In musical terms, music performed Largo can be incredibly beautiful.  However, even beautiful music can be made more interesting by varying the tempo through a well placed accelerando.

To perform an affective tempo change, performers must play in sync.  Having a great conductor to lead the players also helps.  In the case of online music education, the players include schools, teachers, program developers, education support agencies, virtual schools, parents and probably a 1000 others. The conductor is easy to identify...the Students!

So how are the students "conducting" the needed accelerando?  There is a saying in business "People vote with their dollars."  Sounds logical enough.  When companies produce a product or service, if we think that product or service is best, we vote on the product by spending our money to acquire that product or service.  When companies do bad things (enter your choice of company), we express our views by changing our spending to another product or service.  Essentially, we cast our vote with every penny we spend.

In education, we can translate "voting with dollars" into "voting by enrollments."  There are few days that I don't share the statistic that enrollment in online K-12 courses is growing by 30% annually (I took the high of 40% and low of 20% estimates and split the difference).  Folks, students ARE voting.  Online education providers are also making bold moves to meet the demand.  Just a few days ago, 2 of the largest K-12 providers merged when K12 Inc. purchased KC Distance Learning Inc. Both organizations provide services to 100's of thousands of students in the US and they have realized that meeting the demand will take a collaborative effort.  This is just one example of how organizations are responding to the voting by enrollment trends in online learning.  Accelerando -- YOU BET!

So back to the tempo analogy.  Those of us who are players in the ensemble also have a role in ensuring the accelerando is effective.  Just a few days ago, I started a conversation on the MusicPLN around developing standards for online music education. Within a day of starting the conversation, and stating our mission to build program standards (not benchmark educational standards) for online music programs, the group was formed consisting of Elementary through Higher Education and private sector professionals.  Over the next few months, we will be working to document a set of beliefs around online music education as well as a set of characteristics for quality programs.  This activity will begin to get us in sync so that we can serve the needs of the students who are voting on how they want and need to be educated.  The case for online music education is certainly being made clear.

So how can we create a well orchestrated accelerando into online music education? Let's look at the role of the players and what they can do.

  • Provide professional development for teachers and administrators on the value of online learning.
  • Adopt best practices in online course development (no more "class notes online" courses)
  • Recognize online education as a complement to a brick and mortar environment, a way to educate a diverse student population.
  • Mandate levels of technical proficiency in teachers to help ensure openness toward educational technology (we can no longer have professional educations 10 years behind students).
  • Partner with local educational support agencies and take advantage of the programs they provide.
  • When faced with tough times, look at online program integration as a way to keep teachers teaching and students learning.
Virtual Schools 
  • Adopt a whole-mind instructional model (to ensure student achievement comes from rounded educational, performance and evaluation opportunities) 
  • Partner with established virtual academies to provide high quality arts opportunities (those that focus on arts education, development and instruction).
  • Ensure minimum educational requirements for graduation (K-12) include the Arts.
Support Agencies
  • Adopt the understanding that online courses and online schools are two different things.  Online courses are often lifeless, leading to heavy drop rates from students.  Online schools provide all services and opportunities for students including counseling, study support, social activities and of course Artistic experiences.
  • Create programs including professional development and community outreach efforts that put both parties in the same room, to discuss educational challenges and to develop solutions.  
  • Take what appear to be risks.  Schools often are normally averse to new ideas.  Help them shed the shackles and recognize the risks of adopting online programs may be only a perception.  
With everyone playing their part, we will accelerando beautifully from our Largo tempo of integration and adoption.  I am energized by the current level of collaborating happening now a future where we can make our conductor very happy.


  1. I can't drive for more than 20 minutes in the Philadelphia area right now without hearing a commercial on the radio for cyber charter schools. People are certainly voting with their dollars. The Performing and Fine Arts Center I work for just auditioned another 14 students yesterday, some of which will be put on a waiting list. Enrollment at our cyber charter has been slow and steady, and the quality of online instruction continues to improve.

  2. GREAT STUFF! LOVED the Largo analogy - you are right on! I look forward to more of this conversation at PLN. Rock on :)