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Improved Learning: Dump the Lectures

For all of the professors getting giddy over of the possibilities ofstreaming lectures, as well as for those getting nervous about losingcontrol of their intellectual property rights, Roger Schank, PhD, has somesobering words.

Schank is founder, chairman and chief technology officer of CognitiveArts, afor-profit e-learning software company spun out of the Institute for theLearning Sciences at Northwestern University in 1994. He helped to found theInstitute to further his own belief that many of the ills in today'seducation system can be solved by software.

For many who have devoted their lives to creating and delivering coursematerial with a human touch, this is probably an unsettling thought.Moreover, while Schank reassures professors that he is not in the businessof imitating their courses, it is not necessarily out of respect for theirmethods. "I think that when somebody stands up and talks in front of a bunchof people who are supposed to listen to something they can hardly hear orremember, that it is not education," states Schank.

Unlike some technophiles, however, Schank is not suggesting that technologybe employed simply to do the same old thing in a new way, but rather that itcan provide a chance to do something unique. He likes to use the analogy ofa flight simulator to explain his philosophy of how educational software canhelp students to learn through doing.

"You wouldn't have someone learn to fly an airplane by sitting in aclassroom and taking a multiple choice test, would you?," Schank asks. "Youwould want them learning on a plane, but if you could build a piece ofeducational software such as the flight simulator, that¹s even better; noone would die. We build simulations of situations in life that are moreimportant than memorization of fact."

CognitiveArts develops courses for corporate training as well as foracademia, with an impressive client list that includes IBM, General Electricand Columbia University. The courses place students in real worldsituations, through intensive video simulation, and when they make a wrongchoice, they have thousands of video-clipped excerpts on hand to offeradvice. Currently, the video is delivered via CD-ROM, but Schank is excitedabout the potential expansion of his business that streaming could bring."There is not a teacher that knows everything, so what you really want ineducation is one student and an infinite number of teachers available at anymoment," he says. "Volia — the Internet. You are not going to get that anyother way."

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