revolution in education
The world of education is undergoing massive transformation as a result of globalization and digital revolution. Having made several trips to India and seen the drive for higher education, I thought it would be interesting to share some perspectives on the matter.
All around us people are learning with the aid of new technologies. In 2015, my daughter at age 5 is playing complex video games, knows how to use Skype, while students are taking courses at online schools and colleges, and adults are consulting Google and Wikipedia. New technologies are creating learning opportunities that challenge traditional paradigms around schools and colleges as institutions. These new capabilities enable people of all ages to pursue learning on their own terms. We are taking education out of school into homes, Internet cafes, and workplaces. We decide what we want to learn, when we want to learn and how we want to learn.
Who will benefit ultimately from this revolution? In developed countries, educational products are being sold to consumers who are looking for an edge. Visit an App Store on your smartphone and you can easily find hundreds of applications to improve a child's education. This means that technological products and services are popping up everywhere. The problem is that education, once viewed as a public good with equal access for all, is now up for sale to those who can afford specialized services and computer programs.
Without a doubt, schools have played a key role in our evolution. I surely admire the teachers who have dedicated themselves to helping children from different backgrounds to learn and thrive in a changing world. Schools have made invaluable contributions to the world’s development and I hope they will continue to do so well into the future.
However, we’ve arrived at a moment in time that is requiring educators and policy makers to rethink education and the role of schools, colleges and Universities. Education is a lifelong enterprise, while schooling for the most part encompasses only ages five to 18 or 21. Even when students are in school, I can tell you from my own experience that much of our education happens outside of school. Technology and Social media have transformed our larger society. They have become central to people’s reading, writing, calculating, and thinking, which is also the focus of schooling. And yet technology has been kept in the periphery of schools, used for the most part only in specialized courses. Scarce funding often results in less than adequate access to technology.
The central challenge is whether our current schools will be able to adapt and incorporate the power of technology-enabled learning into every aspect of teaching to help drive the next generation of public and private schooling. If schools cannot successfully integrate new technologies in every aspect of learning, then I fear that education will dissolve into a world where wealthier students pursue their learning outside of the formal school system, thus causing an even greater divide.
Incompatibilities between Schooling and Technology
There are deep incompatibilities between traditional schooling and the capabilities that new technologies afford:
- Uniform learning vs. Dynamic teaching. Deeply ingrained in the structure of schooling is a mass-production notion of uniform learning. The belief is that everyone should learn the same things at the same time and at the same pace. But one of the great advantages of technology is mass customization and dynamic teaching. Technology can respond to the particular needs of a student - dynamic content can be developed together with a customized teaching method to meet the interests and difficulties of particular student.
- Challenging teacher authority. At school, the teacher is the expert whose job it is to pass on their knowledge to students. Typically, (not always) teachers don't appreciate to see their authority challenged by students who find contradictory information or who ask questions beyond the teacher’s expertise. In contrast, video and computers provide many different sources of expertise. Often (not always) teachers feel threatened by these views because they undermine their authority.
- Standardized assessment vs. Specialization. Present student assessment testing uses multiple-choice and short answer items. But this form of testing requires that every student learn the same subjects at the same time and at the same rate. To the degree that technology encourages students to go in their own direction and at their own pace, this in is a direct conflict with today's standardized assessments.
- Internalize vs. leveraging external resources. There is a deep belief among teachers and parents that to truly learn something, it's necessary to internalize it without any reliance on outside resources. On tests students are usually not allowed to use books or calculators, much less computers or the web. The opposite is true of adult life, where technology enables people to use outside resources - in fact outside resources become an extension to our minds.
- Coverage vs. The knowledge explosion. School pursue the goal of covering all the important knowledge people might need during the rest of their lives. As knowledge grows exponentially, this notion has become impossible to achieve through the use of traditional textbooks - in fact most are outdated the moment they are printed. Given the explosion of online content, people are learning to find the knowledge resources they need outside of the traditional school system.
- Learning by doing. Deeply embedded in the culture of schooling is the notion that facts, concepts, procedures, theories, and works of art and science that have accumulated over time must be memorized. In contrast, technology fosters a more hands-on, activity-based education. Computers are highly interactive and provide a variety of tools to accomplish meaningful tasks. Hence, they are more aligned with the “learning by doing” view of education, than with the “acquisition of knowledge by memorizing” view of education that permeates today's schools.
The Seeds of a New System of Education
I don’t think that schools will disappear anytime soon. Schools were prevalent in the past, and they will be prevalent in whatever system of education that comes into being. However, as the trends of virtual classrooms and distance learning, driven by technology continue to evolve, education will occur in many different, more adaptive ways and schools might have a narrower role in learning.
Workplace learning continuous to evolve as companies realize that they need to educate their workers to handle complex equipment and solve novel problems. I think that workplace education will increasingly address complex skills and learning to learn. Workers may need to spend their whole lives learning in order to survive in a changing workplace or risk becoming obsolete.
Distance learning over the Internet is exploding worldwide. As busy people realize the need for more education, they increasingly opt to attend virtual classrooms that are delivered anytime, anywhere. Virtual high school and college programs, where teachers at different schools in the system offer online courses to students at other high schools in the state are also growing rapidly.
Adult education is also growing with more adults taking courses in the evening at adult education centers, and older people returning to get their graduate or undergraduate degrees. Many people now go onto the Web to learn about particular topics they are interested in, such as how to invest in stocks.
Learning centers run by Kaplan, Sylvan, and others have arisen, where people can go to learn particular skills and knowledge they need. They most commonly serve to prepare students for national tests, such as the SAT or ACT, and to tutor children who are having problems in school.
WIFI connectivity and Internet cafes are enabling people to get access to the Internet, in most cases for free. These are perhaps the libraries of the future. They often attract young people who spend hours on the web, engaging in conversations and games, reading about what is happening in the world or exploring different sites of Internet. In much of the world, schools have been resource-poor. The opening of the Internet to the world gives people who have been deprived of an education a way to compensate, if they have the initiative and if some basic infrastructure is in place.
The cumulative effect of these innovations is to extend learning throughout life and over many venues and more importantly at a lower cost thus providing greater access to education than ever before. With time, these pieces might come to comprise the fragments of a new system of education in which schools play less of a central role. But for now, these elements are developing independently of one another. They do not in any sense form a coherent system of education. And therein lies the opportunities.