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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Out flew the Web and floated wide, the mirror cracked from side to side

Academics have been seriously discussing 'modern' issues with education. Open Learning, Distance Education, Autonomous Learning, Lifelong Learning, Collaborative Learning etc.

While we were in the middle of these serious deliberations, the carpet was slowly sliding from under our feet. We did not have to make those important things happen. They had all happened by themselves. Because of three developments in technology: the Internet, WiFi and Tablets.

Wherever these three things are available, people do open, distance, autonomous, collaborative lifelong learning. Provided they can search, read, understand and form beliefs from information.

And where these technologies are not available, they will be, in just a few years.

We should now change our agenda and figure out what the next big issues are in education. We have to figure out how to dematerialise our institutions and convert the existing brick and mortar into museums of education where future generations will come and say, 'Oh, so that's how they used to educate people!'

'The used to teach children to do arithmetic in their heads!', they would marvel.

Just as we look back at our past, in vast palaces that are now museums, and say, 'They used to cut off huge blocks of ice from the glaciers in the mountains, wrap them in straw, and carry them with hundreds of animals and men into the hot plains - just so the emperor could have an ice cube in his drink'


Blogger Unknown said...

All classic institution are miles behind young people and their dynamics of exchange knowledge...

July 29, 2012 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Steve Ediger said...

Yes, the institutions are running for the hills. Note the development of Coursera and EdX, the "logic model" of issuing credentials (we don't care where or how you learned it, but if you pay for our assessment and pass it, we'll give you the course credit.)

In a sense, I believe that we have to get back to basics. What is learning? When can we say that someone has 'learned' something...when they can recite facts back to us...when they can describe a process...when they can troubleshoot an improper diagnosis? What constitutes the learning process and sucessful completion of it? Perhaps these questions have been answered by educators, but I am still struggling with them.

How do we measure learning and credit it? When learning takes place by anyone from anywhere at any time, how do we issue credits? When 'accredited educational institutions' are but a small percentage of learning opportunities, who issues the diploma or degree? I suspect that an answer lies in the reputation economy, but how do we codify it?

What learning is necessary or desired to promote a healthier world? I, for one, am not suggesting a specific set of steps through which we take learners in order to produce more productive citizens. However, we do have a duty or perhaps propensity to want to 'evolve' our world to a better place. As educators, parents, a society, are we engaged in answering this?

These are but a few of my questions. Thanks, Sugata, for your pioneering work on learning. How are the experiments about learning the basics of reading and writing in SOLEs going? We'd be interested in any updates.

July 29, 2012 at 3:52 PM  
Blogger Graham Brown-Martin said...


I agree with your post & yet technology in our schools, where it is available, is rarely used to liberate learning but to reinforce old teaching practice for the purpose of getting kids thru standardised tests as if they were materials going thru a factory.

Technology in this way is being used to automate education & de-skill our teachers to the point of being factory workers.

I don't believe that technology will transform our industrial scale education systems until the purpose of education in our society is understood & agreed.

Noam Chomsky made some good points about the purpose of education and the rut in which we are stuck at the last LWF Future of Learning Conference:

Sir Ken Robinson made useful observations about the difference between practitioners, theorists and policy makers in his counter talk:

July 29, 2012 at 11:44 PM  
Blogger Dilip Barad said...

Yes, I agree... we need to rethink issues in education system... Issues of the bygone ages are no more issues for the 21st cen learners.
The inventions like internet, wifi and tablet (as you rightly observed) have brought drastic change in learning habits.
The problem with policy makers (in edu sys) is that - as they have brought up and learned in different environment, it is impossible for them to understand new learning habits - Alvin Toffler was right - we need to learn to 'unlearn'...

July 30, 2012 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Teemu Leinonen said...

I am not that optimistic.

The Internet, WiFi and tablets will definitely help *those* individuals who are able to regulate and guide themselves — in practice observe and evaluate their own behavior. They must be reflective not only on their own thinking and motivation but also able to evaluate and be responsive on their peers thinking and motivation.

The question is how large is the population that is able to regulate and reflect the way the open, distance, autonomous, life long and collaborative learning requires?

My hypothesis is that as an inborn skill (or gift) these skills exist extremely rarely (those people get the nobel prizes).

I base this to the experience in Scandinavian countries. We have had free and open access to great libraries, in practice for all for a couple of centuries. There are great results. Many people use hundreds of libraries in all the towns and neighborhoods. They learn on their own with their peers. There are, still, many people who *never* go to library, neither are they interested in to to study anything. Many people simply do not use the opportunity.

My second hypothesis is that anyone can still learn these skills.

One can learn these skills (like any other) by practicing them. To get people to practice them we probably still need brick and mortar places where people will come to study these skills. That is why, although it is a kind of paradox, I think the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' Article on education claiming that even if everyone has the *right* to education it still should be compulsory is pretty smart. :-)

July 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Diana F. Zalazar said...

Very interesting post and the subsequent discussion. I think we should be able to differentiate between learning in general, that supposes the development of every person, and learning in the strict sense, that which is to acquire and reconstruct certain scientifically validated knowledge. I think two questions:
As far as general learning processes can meet the more complex modes of human thought without the intervention of an educational institution? and
How to make the school will live up of psychosocial changes in the new environment?

August 1, 2012 at 5:27 AM  
Blogger Torn Halves said...

Sugata, how do you respond to the findings that so far the virtual public schools in the US are performing worse than the brick and mortar schools? (See:

The most powerful players in online education will be venture capitalists (K12 Inc in the US was set up by an ex-Wall St banker). The idea of the school as a factory ought to remain a thing of the past, but is the school as educational supermarket a welcome replacement?

I will be looking forward to reading how you connect your advocacy of the demolition of brick and mortar schools to an inspiring image of a better world in which people will look back at how we behave now and be shocked at the barbarism of it all. I sometimes get the impression that you are sharing a bed with Fukuyama, believing that (now that we have the internet) history has essentially ended, and our only task is to get old-fashioned institutions like schools to wake up to the fact.

August 10, 2012 at 1:57 AM  
Blogger petersmith said...

I don't believe that technology will transform our industrial scale education systems until the purpose of education in our society is understood.

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