In his TED talk last year, Sir Ken Robinson highlighted two key problems with the education system today: Linearity and conformity.
Linearity is the sense of a linear progression of education from one stage to the next until we’re “done”—once we reach college, for instance, or are ready for a “profession.” Conformity is the sense that we’re a fast-food nation when it comes to education, standardizing and normalizing every process involved until the education assembly line spits out a few “qualified” products while at the same time sifting out and discarding “defects” that did not meet “specifications.” The ability of these “defects” to contribute toward society is considered to be inferior to those that made it through the assembly line to the other end.
Today, as we debate how education systems worldwide can transform themselves, reinvent their processes and make themselves more meaningful and personalized, technology will play a key defining role in reshaping this landscape.
The likes of Salman Khan and the Khan Academy are throwing the conformity-based classroom model on its head through online repositories of byte-sized lesson plans that are neatly classified according to different topics. A student can selectively pick out the specific topic or sub-topic that she had difficulty with and focus on learning that well. Teachers have the opportunity to make lesson plans around these videos, supplementing this learning with personal attention to those that face difficulties.
At the same time, linearity is being challenged by part-time degree programs for professionals, either on-campus or through distance education programs. It seems to be more acceptable to drop out of college to go pursue one’s passions, with the possibility of returning when one felt the need to round out one’s education. The physical constraint of being “on-campus” was something that stopped this trend from fully catching on, but with the growth in distance education programs from reputed universities across the globe, the number of people choosing this route is on the rise.
One of the key barriers towards enabling this was access to cheap, reliable and high-quality network connections as well as multimedia streaming options. Distance education still used to mean that one had to travel to the nearest “campus” to watch a video of some faculty teaching a particular topic from another city. With the proliferation of desktop clients such as Skype, Google Talk and Microsoft Lync, this is poised to change radically. Cloud-based videoconferencing providers are connecting different islands of videoconferencing seamlessly, making it possible for an instructor on campus using a Polycom, LifeSize or Tandberg device to communicate with hundreds of students across the globe, connected via their desktop software client of choice. Adequate processing power on mobile devices, coupled with ample network connectivity and software support, is transforming the way content is created and consumed on the go. It opens exciting new possibilities of teaching from outside a classroom setting, with a video-enabled mobile device in-hand.
The coming decade promises to be exciting in terms of rethinking education. The time is ripe for change, and there are several technology and pedagogy pioneers leading the way.
The question is: Is the tipping point near?