On the recommendation of a colleague, I recently started listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast – specifically, his Blueprint for Armageddon series about World War One.

Since I started the series last week, I’ve been pretty hooked.

Dan Carlin is a captivating and passionate story teller.  The material is incredibly well researched and presented in a way that’s truly compelling.  It’s really an incredibly body of work and I highly recommend you check it out.

What really fascinates me, is that the material that Carlin covers in the podcast is the exact same material we all learned in 9th grade history class.  The first podcast starts with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and leads up to the German invasion of Belgium.  Pretty familiar stuff, right?

I remember learning about these same events back when I was in high school – perhaps you do as well?  If I close my eyes, I can picture the room where I first learned about Franz Ferdinand – I can see my classmates and my teacher.  I also remember what I thought of the material: it was boring, dry, and uninspiring.

However now, 18 years later, I find the exact same source material to be completely enthralling.

What’s the difference?

Well – when I was growing up, the lesson was delivered by my high school history teacher – who was a very good teacher – but didn’t capture even 1/10th of the emotion and excitement that Carlin portrays.  Carlin is just excellent at presenting this material – the anecdotes and details he includes in his lesson make it seem much more like entertainment than like education.

Given this dichotomy – it really begs the question – why don’t we use this kind of material more in formal education?

I often guest lecture college classes and every time I teach – I always talk to the professors afterward about the students and the trends they see in in modern education.  For the past 10 years, invariably, the teachers have mentioned the same three trends:

  • Kids today don’t really love learning – at best they find it to be a chore
  • Students “shop” for the easiest courses to optimize for good grades and a high GPA
  • Students will often argue with teachers about their grades and focus much more on maintaining a high GPA than learning

In my view, this broken model is the result of (among other things) educational material that has not kept pace with the advancement of entertainment technology.  Students don’t really enjoy education because the material seems boring compared to everything else in their life.

What if we could change that?  What if we could make education as entertaining and enthralling as Dan Carlin’s podcast?

This is not a new idea.  I first heard about this disruptive new approach to education in a TED talk by Sal Khan from 2011.  In Khan’s model – a world-class teacher would teach a lesson and video record it for students to watch at night (this would be “homework”) and during the day students would have discussion groups with their teachers and do what was previously considered to be “homework” (written exercises, etc) in class.

In this “flipped” model – the role of the teacher transforms from that of lecturer to that of discussion leader and tutor.

This would be the prefect use case for Carlin’s material.

Taking this concept one step farther – imagine if this model transcended traditional country boundaries.

For example – let’s go back to my high school experience.

Rather than learning about the start of WWI in a small classroom in Baltimore from a local teacher – imagine we took Khan’s approach and learned about it from Carlin’s podcast at night.  The material would be much more entertaining and interesting – but also, because the podcast is recorded, the same material could be taught on the other side of the world to a different classroom in a different country.

Then during the day – imagine if our class was split in two – where ½ of the class was in Baltimore with me, and the other half of the class was connected via videoconference in Berlin or Paris with students from those countries actively discussing Carlin’s material with American students.

Imagine how wonderful that would be.  Students all over the world, from a very young age, learning alongside students from other countries sitting in virtual classrooms and listening to truly entertaining lectures from teachers who are the best in the world at their discipline.

In my view, this is such a fundamentally better way to do education – it’s only a matter of time.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and Disrupting Traditional Education
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