Prof. Bonk On Distance Learning

If I could redo college, I would want to study under Curtis J. Bonk, Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University.

Bonk personifies a hip, caring and remarkably brilliant professor. I’m sure that he has an equally impressive legion of pupils, making him the envy of his colleagues.

Over Thanksgiving, I read Bonk’s most recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. Each page is filled with highly engaging research and analysis, made all the more enjoyable by the author’s gift for story telling.

Bonk’s effective writing style makes a hugely complex issue easily digestible—and all without dumbing down any content.

It’s a landmark achievement. If only I had a magic wand to make every educator read it.

“I think kids in 20 years are going to walk into school and pick their peers for the day,” Bonk says. “And they’ll be coming from all over the world. They’ll just hit a little map and they might even pick their teachers for the day coming from Philippines and Singapore and other places.”

This day can’t come soon enough. Ad nauseam, independent, charter and public schools alike tout that they prepare students to thrive in a global society. What better way to show sincerity than to embrace online learning?

“If you really do take this notion that anyone can now learn anything from anyone else at anytime, well then you’ve got a global classroom,” Bonk says. “I mean, you’ve got a possibility of getting people to take perspectives of each other all around the world on a daily basis.”

In the age of Google and hugely impressive online learning communities like ePals, I can’t imagine anybody daring to disagree.

All the same, in The World is Open, Bonk explains that much progress is being made to make computers readily available to those in need all over the world. He also speaks about amazing efforts to make computers extremely affordable.

“You don’t even need Internet access,” Bonk says. “You need a computer that has a CD Drive or DVD Drive, where people can plop down the contents and download… resources onto some kind of [flash drive].”

I also love Bonk’s enthusiasm for mobile learning. Honestly, why does all instruction still need to take place inside a traditional classroom? Each day, online applications, software and technologies grow more advanced, affordable and accessible.

But what does this mean for educators, and should we fear for our jobs?

“If you take even a modest interest in integrating technology I don’t’ think you need to be afraid,” Bonk says. “I don’t think you need to have it be your heart and soul and blood running through you, but you have to be aware of it, adapt to it and make good use of it and share it. And if you do that, you don’t have to worry about your job. The number one thing you’re going to have to worry about is having too many kids to teach.”

But with respect to combining effective pedagogy with effective technology, Bonk criticizes schools for being reactive instead of proactive. Only when Hurricane Katrina hit, he says, did schools in Louisiana lift a ban on online learning. When the H1NI-Virus scare occurred in 2010, more schools across the country followed suit.

“I don’t know what happened in New Jersey in terms of schools and in New York after Hurricane Sandy, but I’m assuming that quite a few kids were learning online and feeling very pleased with their learning results,” Bonk says.

According to Bonk, who knows how much planning (if any) went into developing an online strategy before these disasters hit. I think it’s to the point now where only incompetence and shortsightedness explains why more schools lack a ready-to-go system. Once developed, teachers could also experiment with a blended classroom approach throughout the year.

This is the first in a series of blogs featuring Professor Bonk.  Click here to purchase The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.



As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

1 Comment

  • Reply May 4, 2013

    Rodger Freels

    Distance learning is a great advance forward in making education more accessible to millions of Americans who would simply not have the time or resources to obtain a college degree or technical certificate. It allows people from all over the country, even in remote or rural areas to plug into technology that lets them learn, at their own speed and on their own time.

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