Some time ago I was involved with an e-learning programme on coaching for the FA (Football, or soccer for US readers). I spoke to the guy a few years later who told me the programme had made a fortune for the FA, showing that branded, quality, niche, generic, e-learning content can make money.
Pathetic on practice
What was more interesting was his analysis of the ills in British football, exemplified by recent England performances. He explained that our heritage in sport was rooted in the public school system which valued 'games' but not 'practice'. To practice was seen as a form of 'cheating' old chap. So we like to play competitive sports, not practice to improve. This is so true. I've seen my kids get turned off football and rugby, despite being keen when younger, because it simply wasn't any fun playing on huge pitches with huge goals designed for six-foot goalkeepers. It was all about 'getting stuck in' with little real coaching. They gravitated towards Tae Kwon Do which is mostly practice, with occasional competitions, and flourished (for 4 years, four/five times a week, a clutch of medals, heading towards black belt next year).
Homework seen as cheating
A further reflection was around the issue of homework. Most parents I speak to with children in the state system are shocked at the lack of homework. Perhaps this has its roots in the same culture, that practice is wimpish, only for swats, and doesn't matter. The students who do lots of homework are the students who do well academically, it's as simple as that. They learn how to learn and develop intrinsic motication and discipline around learning. These students often hide the fact that they do stacks of work at home, for fear of being ridiculed. They learn to keep quiet about doing homework.
Homework creates autonomous learners. It teaches them to learn efficiently. It prepares students for the leaps from primary to secondary to tertiary education. It allows parents to contribute to their child's education and keep track of their progress. Looking back on my 50 years on this planet, most of what I learnt was in the quiet of my own room, not in classrooms. It's a shame that this valuable ethos is being abandoned.
Thinking in the box
There is, of course, another reason for the collapse of autonomous learning (homework) - the teaching profession's obsession with classroom-only learning. Like full-size pitches in football, they're too big, anonymous, impersonal. They strip the fun out of learning. Educational theorists and practitioners can only think in the box, that box being the Victorian classroom. This is why the main investment in technology was in whiteboards. A more cynical observer would say they simply can't be bothered marking.