Why do people actually study when they go to college? Why do they complete any assignment? Why in the world does delaying real life for several years while they are young to spend time in serial windowless rooms with tiny desks seem normal? It's not even so much that it's important, because there's little evidence at the time that it's Important enough to forego other activities for several years when those other activities have immediate knowable rewards. Humans simply aren't built to be rational in that way, able to weigh competing hypotheses with accurate probabilities. They need immediate reinforcement and rewards, and the long term rewards of career or salary have little to do with it. The medium term rewards of encouragement, respect, and pride from loved ones is also too far off to have much to do with it.
The (housed-near-campus) university system works, largely, by creating a kind of group delusion that what you're doing in school right now is normal. It works because the majority of your peers are doing the same thing: going to class, going to coffee or the library to study, going home to repeat until done. Breaking out of that cycle would cause concern or worry on your behalf by many; shame or humiliation could come. The system keeps reinforcing as long as a critical mass of people all believes the same way.
Telepresence can't create this. Remote distance learning can't create this. What structures can create enough social capital that someone would do the studying/work necessary to succeed? Family can, especially if the children are housed at home. But if you are on your own, what else can create this level of reinforcement? Of positive reinforcement for studying, and negatively reinforcing punting?
Someone suggested an idea to me, and I thought of another. Both are based on competitions (does this work better for men than women?)
The first is a team, led by a coach that competes against other teams.
The second is a set of individual competitions.
I still see that the second one is more difficult to work on; you need something to force you to buy into the peer group you are competing against. But the first idea has promise.
No one maligns the use of drills in competition sports. But the more interesting aspect is what you owe each other. You wouldn't want to let your team down, so you do the drill. If you don't, your coach benches you. Your individual strengths are pushed, and still you're expected to support each other rather than rest on the other members' skills. Both the intra-team competition and inter-team competition can really motivate, if you really buy into the notion that you're a team.
Now, to me, teams succeed or fail based on their coach. What skills do coaches have that teachers should have but often don't?
Without a coach, though, I think this system fails--it too easily becomes gamed by the students replacing real competition with their own "fake" competition. Someone needs to prevent everyone from just defaulting, and someone needs to reinforce shame and pride when appropriate.
Of course, there's nothing limiting this model only to virtual schooling. Even in real classrooms, team competition could help create a culture of success. How many competitions happen inside a KIPP school?