Microsoft is now offering some additional educational opportunities and experiences for educators and students. Recently, Microsoft announced its acquisition of TakeLessons, is a platform that offers students the opportunity to connect with individual tutors in a variety of interest areas. TakeLessons started in 2006 as a way for people to connect with local tutors to take in-person lessons and then it made the transition to being an online lessons provider. By acquiring TakeLessons, Microsoft will increase its already large presence in the online learning space for education.

With TakeLessons, students have access to highly-rated instructors from around the world that provide personalized lessons that meet each student’s particular interest, learning style, and pace. The benefit of a platform like TakeLessons was felt during the 2020-21 year of virtual teaching as educators and families sought more ways to connect students with real-world learning that focused on a variety of areas and skillsets.

The lessons are available to students regardless of location as they can be done in the student’s home, or depending on geographical areas, at a teacher’s location, or fully online. There are thousands of possibilities for connecting with learning experiences from around the world. Recent statistics show that there are two million people a month currently using the lessons available through TakeLessons. TakeLessons offers over 300 subjects, and nearly 6,500 teachers are involved in providing these lessons to students. More than 3 million lessons have been given around the world through TakeLessons.

TakeLessons offers instruction in a wide variety of areas, including music lessons (where it originally got its start), academic subjects and test prep, computer skills, crafts and hobbies, languages, and more. It has been around since 2006 and started as a platform to connect people with local tutors for in-person lessons, before progressing into online lessons which led to increased use in many areas. Lessons can be booked and some are available fully online or in-person. Lesson lengths are either 30-, 45- or 60-minutes.

To get started, you simply go to the TakeLessons site and you can choose a teacher face on state, or trending lessons available online, or group classes. Once you select teachers, you can see the classes offered, their particular skills and educational experience, the location whether online or available in a local area, customer reviews, and the cost for any associated lessons that they provide. Each instructor has profile information available so that you can learn more about them, then you simply choose the lesson. Because there are so many instructors included, lessons are available anytime from anywhere. Teachers can also sign up to be one of the instructors for TakeLessons.

Match, meet, master: Finding a teacher is easy by simply searching for what you want to learn, and it can locate a nearby teacher for you nearby and even make suggestions about possible topics to explore. It asks whether you want to take lessons online, at home, or in the teacher’s studio and which specific skills you are interested in developing. To try it out, I did a search for learning to play guitar, with country music, and not focused on a particular song. The search provided me with a list of 200 online teachers to choose from. I could read their profiles, see the cost of lessons, and other relevant information to help me to best make my decision in terms of what I was looking for.

Promoting computer science

Microsoft has recently expanded its TEALS program, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program, which was founded in 2009.  TEALS is a “Philanthropies program that helps high schools develop and grow inclusive and sustainable computer science programs.” The new expansion will make the program available to schools in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and will also expand its reach to 18 more cities in the United States. Because of the growing need for skills in computer science, Microsoft is looking to increase access for Latino, Black, and African American high school students who are located in metro and rural communities. TEALS is currently available in 31 states.

According to information shared by Microsoft in the press release, there are currently 400,000 open computing jobs available in the United States and it is expected that this need will grow at twice the rate of all other jobs. Equity is also an issue as only 47% of U.S. high schools currently offer computer science. There is a definite interest as 90% of parents want their kids to learn computer science according to information shared through Code.org. One problem is having access to trained teachers and courses, which is how the TEALS expansion will assist as it also focuses on increasing access for diverse students. To resolve this lack of training, the TEALS program assists teachers in building their skills by setting up a collaboration with a tech industry volunteer, to work with high school teachers to team-teach computer science. The volunteers work with teachers as they learn to teach computer science on their own and provide access to resources to build the programs in their schools.

Because of the growing need for skills in computer science, Microsoft is looking to increase access for Latino, Black and African American high school students who are located in metro and rural communities.

Rachelle Dené Poth

With the new expansion in the program that will add 6,160 more students, there will be 17,000 students that will benefit from TEALS this year alone. Since the TEALS program started in 2009, more than 93,000 students have been impacted. During last year’s transitions between virtual and hybrid learning, the program opened up many opportunities for students and educators to stay connected and learn in new ways. During the 2021-22 school year, TEALS will continue to offer virtual classroom options that connect students with volunteers through the use of video conferencing tools and other methods to promote interaction. There are more than 1,300 volunteers available remotely that will help to teach students during this school year.

The program was highly beneficial especially for rural communities that found it more difficult to access opportunities such as those that can now be provided through TEALS. It promotes more social awareness as students can learn about areas beyond their community and connect with more authentic, real-world learning. It is also the first time that there will be Spanish translations available for the current English language curriculum. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is one of the curriculum providers that will be assisting with the translations.

Both of these programs provided through and amplified by Microsoft will help to connect students and educators with learning opportunities that truly can happen anywhere and anytime. Where barriers once existed due to a lack of resources or trained teachers, students now have access to learning that meets their interests and needs and connects them globally with educators around the world.  Educators now have additional support to grow their own practice and to bring more opportunities in for their students.

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