The Problem with TED Ed

This guest post by Shelley Blake-Plock was previously published in her blog, TeachPaperless.

The problem with TED Ed is the problem of what we define in traditional education as a “lesson”.

In life, we learn lessons by trial-and-error. We burn our hand on the stove as children and therefore learn that the stove gets hot. Over time we realize it gets hot because its purpose is to cook food. Some of us learn how the stove works and become mechanics or industrial engineers; others of us become chefs. Most of us just realize to keep our hands out of hot stuff.

But we all learn by doing and by making mistakes.

And I emphasize “doing”.

TED — in the form it is presented online to the masses — is not about doing. It is about watching. Listening. Consuming. Maybe leaving a comment or sharing a link to improve your TEDCred score. Yes, there is a wealth of interesting information and lots to think about. Personally, I find many of the lectures to be inspired. But we shouldn’t confuse an inspiring lecture and provocative ideas with “learning”.

And much of what we have called “lessons” over the decades really aren’t lessons at all — they are consumables. They are short narratives consumed by students who are then asked to fill in bubbles that demonstrate that the student either was paying a modicum of attention or that the student has good natural deductive skills in parsing the quiz-maker’s craft.

And so we added the essay, the brief constructed response, the formal answer. And we said it was good because now we had brought qualitative and subjective response and the skill of argument to the assessment of learning. And we judged it objectively. And we kicked the poets out of town.

None of this led to “learning” for the overwhelming majority of students. If it had, we would not be at the crisis stage in education and culture.

And so, I was interested though skeptical of TED Ed when it was announced. And now, in seeing where it is going I am depressed.

Let’s consider the things that TED Ed asks the learner to do: watch a video, take a multiple-choice quiz, write brief constructed responses, and read through a bibliography. If I took the name TED out of this scenario, I would suggest that many educators would say that this format is exactly the type of traditional assessment that project-based, inquiry-driven, personalized learning is at odds with.

It is perfectly fine to watch a video. It is perfectly fine to view a lecture. It is perfectly fine to quiz yourself on what you remember from the video or the lecture. It is perfectly fine to write a brief response about a big question. But let’s not call that a lesson. That’s just a starting point.

Lessons come from doing.

Our mother told us the stove was hot. She told us not to touch. If we were asked what mother said, we would say: “She said not to touch the stove. The stove is hot.”

But we didn’t learn a lesson until we touched the stove and got burned.

Lessons worth sharing are lessons that come from out of doing. And if we are going to bring education to the online space what we need right now is a platform that exists to help us do a lot more than flip the classroom. We desperately need a platform that exists to help us learn lessons by doing.

Will TED Ed evolve into that? Will MITx? Will any of the current rage of MOOCs?

Therein may lie a lesson.

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The Problem with TED Ed by Shelly Blake-Plock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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