— Nigel Painting (@nigelchpainting) February 28, 2017
In this TED talk Anant Agarwal, head of MOOC provider edX, describes education as having ‘calcified’ for the past 500 years. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair if one considers education in the wider context, from primary school through to post-graduate university study and not forgetting the learning and development that is facilitated by countless commercial and not for profit organisations.
My wife works in a primary school so I see first hand how different the facilities and ways of engaging pupils are to when I was at a similar school over fifty years ago. Yes there are still the brightly coloured pictures on the walls and familiar pots of paints and crayons, but there’s plenty of technology too. I wouldn’t say that the technology has shaped the teaching practices in the school though. What is different is definitely cultural, it’s about the way pupils are encouraged to treat one another and to embrace what life has to offer. This is summed up in the school’s motto “New day, new possibilities”.
Agarwal also talks about the innate ability of the millennial generation to use technology, a topic I remember debating right back at the start of the IDEL course. I’m not going to go over that again now, save to say that there’s enough evidence to debunk that theory.
However, contrary to what you might expect from the head of a company offering online education, Agarwal isn’t extolling the virtues of MOOCs as the elixir to cure the ‘calcified’ educations system in this video presentation. Instead he talks about a blended approach, where online resources are combined with classroom based activities.
Argawal suggests a number of ideas he believes would be effective in helping students learn more effectively:
- Similar to a TED talk I posted earlier in this blog from Coursera founder Daphne Koller, Argawal promotes ‘active learning’ quoting Craik and Lockhart (1972), who proposed that “Learning and retention is related to depth of mental processing”.
- Secondly he suggests that ‘self pacing’ is very helpful to learning, for example students being able to pause and rewind virtual lectures.
- He suggests that ‘instant feedback’ is more effective than the traditional format where work is submitted and feedback and grading is received a couple of weeks later when ‘students have forgotten all about it’. “Instant feedback turns teaching moments into learning outcomes”
- Gameification through virtual laboratories
- Peer learning through discussion forums and Facebook like interactions – learning by teaching
This talk was published in 2013 so it’s no surprise that all of the ideas he suggest above are present in the learning environments offered by many of the businesses I network with on a regular basis, including my own. Many of these ideas have been implemented for purely pragmatic reasons, to reduce costs and to enable a relatively small number of trainers to meet the needs of a large number of learners. They also appear to be an effective way of helping large numbers of people learn.