The bottomline for online learning in the future

Here is the deal. Ever since my early trysts with online learning (starting with IGNOU in 1997) to eGurucool in 2002 to SMU till recently, the bottomline for effectiveness of online learning has been the capability of the participants in the medium …much more than issues of infrastructure and access.

Let us, for instance, look at the capability of students in a traditional medium. Students have limited choice in what they end up learning, in what mode, from where and to what end. Most decisions are influenced by peers, family, brand, access and cost. None of them actually make decisions based on pedagogy or learning experience. Students have limited choice in what they can learn (apart from electives).

Students and teachers (I am talking scale) are participants in a rote, dish me down lecture notes paradigm. Students are bound by institutional boundaries, culture, norms, infrastructure. Students are confined to certification and credentialing norms laid down centrally.

Most students have, and continue to, be subservient to the system rather than the other way around. Substantially speaking, participants in the system have been dumbed down by structure and process, a problem made even more vicious by scale.

The same phenomenon has repeatedly been crafted online. I think this is the time to attack the problem head on, more than ever.

Let us say no to closed, content as king, system as king conceptions and empower the participants of our educational system by designing systems in which creativity, critical thinking and many critical literacies required to learn in this day and age, can be themselves experienced and demonstrated.

And how can this happen? We need to use the cascading virality of the network to make this happen. If FB could cover half the world and Google can become a household word, so can these capabilities be exemplified by a large number of people.

It requires deep thinking and a lot of experimentation around the design of the education “network”. The answers will emerge, and we cannot design for them. The deepest challenge there will be to shed control.

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