Three ways Einstein has helped online learning

Austin Cowan

Einstein was known for a fair share of important things. To this day, we use him as a nickname to denote intelligence, or sarcastically when someone’s made a mistake. He discovered the theory of relativity, is the father of one of the two branches of modern physics, and inspired decades of very interesting hair.


But he’s also known for following quote that’s often falsely attributed to him. If you read a self-help book in the early 90s, or have ever been on the internet, you’ll probably know the one.

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Even though this quote wasn’t penned by our guy above, there’s as much truth here as there is fallacy. It does a great job of illustrating the value of diverse talent. But we also tend to use it as an excuse when we struggle with new information.

There are certain skills everyone needs to learn in the workplace—often being asked to climb a tree. But maybe the fish really sucks at climbing a tree because they haven’t been given both the time and resources they need to climb the three? Since there isn’t a marine biologist nearby, let’s talk about what online learning is doing to help that fish make the climb.

Learning to Climb the Tree

The exciting thing about e-learning comes down to the response from millions of students and viewers worldwide.

Khan Academy is an example of one of the earlier organizations that’s seen so much success. And their humble start began when a hedge fund analyst recorded some personalized lectures for his extended family. (You know, presumably to help them fall asleep).

After posting those videos online, people slowly started to stumble on them online in a similar way we just fall into something like this. Even more shockingly, they were actually excited about math. The rest is history. So what made this approach so appealing? Let’s tackle that in three points below.

1. Viewing Content at a Self-Driven Pace

The ability to pause and repeat ideas, review things they should have known weeks or years ago, all at a self-guided pace helps to eliminate knowledge gaps altogether. Even teachers have started to reap the rewards of online learning with their students.

By having students watch personalized lectures at home, it frees up the time spent in class to do all their homework at school. Suddenly, students are getting the one-on-one time they need to succeed. And teachers can even have real-time data that shows them how much time their students are spending on each problem or video. Imagine the impact that has at a school.

Imagine the impact that could have at work.

2. Adapt Learning to Meet the Needs of the Learner

Think back to your awkward days in school. That hairdo you thought was so great? Your braces. Yeah, you were looking good.

Despite your best efforts to look like this, how many times did a class move on whether or not you got the material? While you might have managed to hang on, some students get left behind when those blind spots accumulate. Which solves the mystery of that one student that was totally brilliant that decided to live on a train for the rest of their lives.

Whether students get a good or bad grade—the class usually moves with or without them. The same thing can happen at work. Online learning takes a different approach. Instead of moving ahead without knowing the ins and outs, e-learning doesn’t leave you behind until you’ve mastered the information. How many of us would know how to ride a bike if our parents had moved on after two weeks? But here you are now, never forgetting how it all works. The epitome of that saying. All because you got to stay on and fall off until it finally stuck.

Our current system can often discourage experimentation and failure but does not expect mastery.

We need to encourage experimentation and failure with the expectation of mastery.

3. Transferring Ownership of the Learning

Dead Poets Society resonates with so many people because it was all about his teacher getting his students out of the book. And, you know, although he kind of sort of got fired for it, that’s not the sort of world we live in today. Once students or employees feel like the have a full grasp on something in their own time, they’re going to be that much more confident—and capable—in contributing ideas that lead to important breakthroughs and innovations.

Knowing when employees had to pause a video, how much time they spent watching it or training. Knowing exactly what they’re spending their time learning, what they’re understanding, and what they’re struggling with. That gives you the kind of power, confidence, and precision that would make doctors mistake you for a surgeon. Though, we’d recommend not taking them up on that offer.

When students have the resources and time they need to stick with something until they get it, what we’re starting to see is that those that used to appear slower actually tend to speed up after they’ve mastered a principle they’re struggling with. Suddenly, they look gifted. Or rather, we make the discovery that they were gifted all along.


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