What the bleep is Altschool?

I wanted to address this because I think there’s some confusion circulating around the internet, particularly around the term “self-directed” learning and how it relates to Altschool’s mission.

Altschool is a network of microschools, founded by Max Ventilla — who worked on personalization at google.

Through personalizing the learning process, Ventilla hopes to use technology to make the learning process cater to individual student’s learning style and interests. They also have a sophisticated method of tracking student process.

For example, a student who loves basketball might have the opportunity to learn about algebra as it relates to basketball.

Personalized learning is quite different than “self-directed learning” where a student has autonomy over what subject they want to learn next.

A “free school” is generally a democratic school where students have complete control and autonomy over their own learning process. Far from being without structure, their is a complex set of rules and systems that are invented by the students themselves. Rather than reading “at level” the child has the opportunity to learn if and when they want to. Many boys do not learn to read until age 10, but they do eventually learn to read. Some children go on to college — others pursue different routes. Good examples are Sumerhill in the UK and Brooklyn Free School in Brooklyn.

Direct observation and long-term studies have shown that this model can be incredibly successful if started at an early age- but when students enter a “Free school” as teens after being subjected to years of their willpower being squashed by authority figures, the change is too drastic and they flail around and often don’t know how to negotiate their new found freedom. This is not the case, of course with every child.

In the 21st century, the teacher’s role as “purveyor of knowledge” is no longer that important. Instead, the teacher is becoming a facilitator of knowledge. The knowledge is there and leaders like Sugata Mitra with his hole in the wall experiment and Sal Khan have demonstrated how far a child’s natural curiosity can take them.

Back to Altschool.

Altschool was developed on the premise of three aspects being essential to productive learning 1) great teachers 2) individualized instruction 3) parent and community involvement in the learning process.

Far from ignoring the indispensable role parents play in the learning process, Altschool hopes to use technology to breach the gap between what goes on at home and in the classroom. Furthermore, by 2016 they are planning on launching their first charter schools in an effort to redesign the entire public school system to be more agile, affordable, personalized and keep track of each student to prepare them to live happy, meaningful lives that make a contribution to the larger community.

As a disclaimer, I am not affiliated with Altschool and do not know if they will be successful in their mission.

However, I think it is a mistake to dismiss self-directed learning and free schools without fully looking into their unique advantages.

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