Customize Learning and Move Students Away from Memorize and Regurgitate

In this fascinating and inspiring TEDx talk, Philip Kovacs, Associate Professor of Education at UAH in Huntsville, discusses how he is working to convince schools and school systems to stop using textbooks and instead to harness the power of the web.

I first came across Philip’s work after reading a brilliant piece he wrote titled An Open Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher. If you haven’t read it, then get onto it immediately, if you have, then I am sure you will enjoy his thought provoking video below.

Presenting data from an experiment ran with two groups of 9th grade at-risk of students, Philip shares the intriguing and surprising results gathered. Each group of students was identical apart from one small difference in their set curriculum:

Sixty minutes, twice a week, we had them read and write about whatever they wanted to read and write about. That’s all we did. Fourteen weeks, we gave them a break, and we let them get online, and whatever the school’s filters would let him find, they got to read and write about.

While the higher test results presented were telling, I think it is this comment from Philip that says even more about the experiment and overall approach in educating the students:

We knew before they went in for the post-test that they were gonna knock it out the water. How did we know? Attendance, discipline, parents showing up at parent teacher night saying things like ‘oh yeah, our boy loved your class because you never have to do any work’.

It’s these kinds of results that have persuaded and guided Philip towards his mission:

We gotta move students away from memorize and regurgitate and we gotta move them towards research and engage.

Much like the research conducted by Dan Pink and discussed in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Philip has come to a similar conclusion on what motivates our students:

The research says that if you give children some autonomy, a sense of purpose and a chance for mastery, they don’t need discipline. They’ll do the work because they love doing the work.


Where do you stand on this approach? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. After 20+ years of homeschooling with this approach, I can say “Absolutely!”. My kids choose their course of study and resources, and that ownership of their education does more for their motivation than all the sticker charts that would fit on my fridge.

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