Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pilot Lessons: Will Hybrid Online Music Education Take Off?

By Mark T. Burke

I've been wresting with the question...Will online music education take off?  While other subjects have continued to grow at 43% annually (as evidenced by this report from Innosight Institute Inc.), music and the arts are still in the developmental stages. (There are only 2 mentions of music program integration from the 40 case studies).  This report specifically talks about hybrid education models, where brick and mortar schools integrate online curriculum into the classroom learning environment.  I believe this model should be the focus of schools as it provides the best set of benefits to students. However, I also believe this model presents the most scary set of unknowns for many traditionalists.  I talk to more music educators who admit they are traditionalist as compared to progressives. This is why I continue to have the question, will online music education take off?  To help me answer that question, I've conducted several pilots over the last 2 years. 

So, what is a pilot?  Some say a pilot is an experiment or a trial run of a specific program.  Those activities are far less organized than a real pilot.  Good pilots are organized implementations of a learning program at its early stage of development for the purpose of gathering valuable program.  That feedback helps the developers of the program make changes before the program is released to a wider audience.  Pilots help developers lessen the chance that small issues will become global issues. Experiencing a problem with one customer is better than experiencing the same problem with 100's.

I've conducted three music curriculum related pilots and one non-music over the last 3 years.  These pilots have given me the opportunity to compare music and non-music subjects.  They have also given me great insights into the answer to the question "will online music education take off?"

So what have I learned?
  • Support From the Top:  When school administration is involved in the integration of online learning programs, the programs are approached with more energy.  Their involvement ensures the value of the program is more widely understood and thus the effort and time to manage the integration is robustly supported.  Without school administrator support and involvement, online learning integration often fails.  
  • Teacher is KEY!:  The teacher who delivers the program must be a prolific communicator, often communicating daily if not several times per day regarding the program, the educational content and assignments, issues, solutions and student progress with the pilot manager.  When teachers take ownership of the pilot in regards to the student interactions with the program, online programs provide the intended student benefits.  
  • Evaluation Check Points:  Integration of any new program should be assessed.  Written reviews, thoughts, feedback and daily notes are essential to ensuring the online offering meets the needs of the school and students.  When the school provides in-service time for teachers to work with program managers and provides subs to cover their classes, sufficient time can be spent collecting data to ensure program success.
  • Team Spirit:  Integrating online learning into a traditional educational setting takes teamwork.  No one person holds the key to success.  This teamwork can be scary for some traditional educators. It makes some feel they are handing over part of their program to outside organizations.  The whole team has to be open to change, sharing failure, solving problems and adjusting their course of action.
  • Shared Urgency:  As a manager of several pilots, my sense of priority and urgency is obviously high.  In the cases where the school's urgency was just as high, the pilot integration was run more efficiently and collaboratively.  I would add the effort was even more FUN for the team.  This collaborative, shared urgency ensures no piece of the pilot falls short of expectations.  In turn, the students benefited from that shared urgency.
  • Global Goal: Everyone on the pilot team must know what the educational goals are.  There are no rules on what those goals should be.  Sometimes they are simple, "get more students into this class."  Other times, they are more performance based, "improve skill XYZ," and sometimes they are attitudinal, "raise students interest in XYZ." Regardless of what the goals are, they must be communicated and and VALUED across the team.  The goals must also mean something to the school.  If the program succeeds in reaching the goals and those goal don't mean anything to the school, the program integration will fail
  • These lessons learned are cyclic, tied together, non-linear.     
So will online music education take off?   I believe the first step is to ensure the value of online, hybrid music learning.  I believe we (those who design, develop and deliver online music education), have our work cut out for us.  The integration of online education has matured since the late 90's (the early days of online education programs). In order for online music education to positively influence students like I know it can, we have to understand that schools will NOT simply choose to roll out online courses and see what happens.  We are not offering Algebra, Biology and Foreign Languages.  Providers in those fields benefited from the trendiness of online learning in the 90's and still hold the lead in enrollments (due in part to state testing and STEM proliferation).  We will be held to a higher standard and we must reach for that standard. The lessons learned above point to what I believe is a minimum support system.  Within systems exhibiting these traits, online music will become a great asset to our students.