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How do we best educate the students of tomorrow? What we teach our children – and how we teach them – will impact almost every aspect of society, from the quality of healthcare to industrial output; from technological advances to financial services. Our Global Agenda Council experts join the debate to offer various visions of how education may evolve, and how governments, educators, employers and students will need to adapt to keep pace with the bewildering array of possibilities that will shape all of our futures.
|Photo: Students take notes from their iPads at the Steve Jobs school in Sneek August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Kooren|
The impact of technology
Rapid and dramatic developments in technology, the internet and online learning have outpaced projections from just a few years ago. And while the concept of internet-enabled study is hardly a new phenomenon, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) could be the spark that ignites significant changes in the way the world teaches and learns. That’s the view held by Professor Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, the online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT.
“We’re seeing a revolution in education as we speak,” says Professor Agarwal, “Technology is casting a spotlight on the innovation of massively open courses, of dynamic new study options that are available to everyone, regardless of background or location.”
Flexible, mass stream and open-source learning, he argues, will revolutionize the landscape of education. “In the future, you could go to university having done the first year of content online. You could then come and have the campus experience for two years, before going on to get a job in the industry where you become a continuous learner for the rest of your life.”
Professor Agarwal believes that this flexibility, combined with instant online feedback, will vastly improve learning outcomes. But this dynamism also extends beyond a mere expansion of study options.
The evolution of MOOCs will not only have a profound effect on how we teach in the future, but who we teach, says Professor Agarwal. MOOCs and their technology could be used to ‘virtualize’ education on a mass scale, delivering low-cost learning opportunities to developing countries that have skipped what he calls the “landline generation” – countries such as India and Kazakhstan, and Africa’s emerging economies where mobile phones are the primary form of communication. It is, he says, much easier to connect thousands of people to the internet and provide them with subsidized tablets, than to build hundreds of bricks-and-mortar campuses.
Professor Agarwal believes that open source MOOCs will adapt organically and democratically to the specific needs of the developing world. The use of the open source model will promote universal access to study materials, setting each MOOC in competition with itself as well as anyone else who wishes to challenge and modify its platforms.
“When something is this powerful and this game-changing, we need to be steering it as a non-profit venture, and even move beyond the concept of non-profit. It should be a platform that everybody can take, and evolve in the way they see fit. Why should any one organization be in charge of it?” he says.
Not everyone is convinced that access to MOOCs will prove to be a universal solution to the world’s education challenges. Technology and online learning have exponentially extended the reach of the humble classroom – but this is a trend that Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, President of the National University of Singapore, approaches with some caution.
In Professor Tan’s view, MOOCs distributed by well-established universities, while undoubtedly having a positive impact, fail to take into account the heterogeneous nature of education. And this is particularly true in the context of developing countries.
“There is unlikely to be a panacea in terms of a form of education which would meet different needs worldwide,” says Professor Tan. “Another disadvantage is that you could end up disempowering local education institutions.”
He envisions a more symbiotic approach: “For example, a MOOC provider could work with a number of universities in Africa or in India in order to customize or contextualize the learning materials. They could also work directly with the educators so that face-to-face components could be developed.”
As technology continues to replace routine jobs, education must adapt, says Professor Tan. Modular and online learning will play a significant role in this, but are no substitute for a holistic learning experience.
Outside of developed countries, he feels that branch campuses and partnerships with more established institutions can offer several benefits. “This kind of internationalization in situ provides a new and quite interesting way in which higher education capacity and quality can be built up in the developing world.”