19.03.13 / Ollie Smith
Re-Imagining Schools: What we’re Learning from Online Education
Innovative leaps in technology are constantly fed to us; as we sit comfortably with the latest efficiency that makes our lives easier, another emerges and once again completely changes our mindset. Cleverly placed in our gaze, these evolving ventures are tastefully squeezed into our daily lives, altering our course we jump aboard the digital revolution train as it steams forward, leaving those that linger to fade in the distance.
Innovation in the Classroom
Over the last decade online education has been a hot topic amongst innovators, and those whispers have gotten louder as the number of elite universities experimenting with online delivery methods rapidly grows. Free courses worldwide often experience 6 figure attendance numbers via their virtual ‘classrooms’.
Intrigued, I became excited to dive right in and see what I could learn, attracted to the idea of continuing to stimulate my brain outside of the traditional ‘school’ structure (which for me finished some time ago) where frankly, there was little on offer that could keep my attention long enough before I slipped back into my minds own little bubble of things I actually cared about.
The game changer in this developing world of digital resources was that I had a choice, and every step I took could be purposefully applied to my working life or interests. At last, I was in control.
Depth of Choice
Leading pioneers such as edX and Khan Academy encourage advanced development from an early age and offer a broad depth and variety of courses. I however signed up to arguably the best of them all; Coursera, which considering its enormity, quality and variety has only been available since 2012. Coursera was founded by Stanford Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng.
I browsed through all of the course categories, from mathematics to food and nutrition, to software engineering and the Arts; courses were offered in almost every area and from notable educative institutions around the world such as Princeton, Stanford, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and more, totalling 62 institutions in all.
I found myself preparing to tackle the offering of ‘Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies’ offered by the University of Maryland in America; I chose this as it was both relevant to my career positioning and useful to anybody with a vision and hunger to push forward and continue their self development.
Immediately I found myself flung into a forum of thousands of other students that had also enrolled, we discussed the approaching course and read through advice and tips offered up by every student demographic imaginable. The age range was amazing, including teenagers, twenty somethings and many students the same age as my grandparents. In this environment age and status meant nothing.
The critical linkage between that of the course and each participant was quite brilliant, optimising on the most blindingly obvious free resource; social media. I could almost visualise the branches of online education growing as millions of students shared what they were learning and where they were learning it via their own social media news feeds. Effectively Coursera is being both distributed, promoted and judged (for free) by its own body, attracting more and more people as it blazes forward from innovation to innovation.
So why is this model so popular? What was so attractive and compelling about online methods of education in comparison to the traditional classroom model? The answers were clear and for the most part obvious. The freedom and choice that Coursera offered was both rich and compelling, offering a deeper and more focused learning experience based around your individual motivations, hopes and endeavours. These courses are defined through interest, I signed up to my course because I actually wanted to and had genuine passion for absorbing the resources I was provided with. I was never restricted; stop for a second, wouldn’t it be great if our schools offered the same experience?
So there I was, wherever I wanted to be and whenever I wanted to be there, studying a course online with a global attendance of people who wanted to engage with one another. A truly multi-cultural classroom. Everybody’s opinions mattered and counted for something, and there was rarely a case of right or wrong, because it was always more than that; there was depth and forward thinking, debates based on real experiences, visions and targets. We were learning from one another, not one individual addressed by their surname. Everybody had their place in the mix and we all shared a common goal; our self development.
The course itself worked through weekly lectures, slideshows and videos of relevant content to inspire, spark ideas and help develop opinions; course content was delivered via the website for all enrolled students to view as they pleased during the week. In response to the studying, assignments were distributed, some being of questionnaire format, some short blogs on business structure and planning process, and some simply to review each others contributions. An effective peer assessment model is crucial given high participation numbers and ensures learning is not limited to the privileged few.
The course structure was of a logical nodal framework, always shooting off back to social media where we could be updated faster and easier if needs be, or look through what discussions were ongoing, whilst raising any issues and questions of our own.
The beauty of online delivery methods is that the appropriate tools rise to the forefront while restrictive tools fade away; in this sense the model of education is constantly improving and decisions on evolution are not restricted (for the most part) by regional committees or ‘experts’.
Communication was diverse yet logical; there was #hashtagging on Twitter and groups assigned on Facebook. I never had to look far to find what I needed. Technical literacy was crucial, but for those who started without it, they finished the course with the skills they needed to further themselves in these environments. Arguably the technical literacy online learning environments promote is increasingly crucial to both the organisation of learning and the individual in the future.
Studying via Coursera in conjunction with my weekly work load at @wearecrowd was not only possible, it felt healthy for my development personally and hopefully contributed toward the knowledge within the company. Crowd encouraged me to do this and gave me the time to develop a broad range of skills supported by the culture of the company.
The essence of online education should sing opportunity to any business and individual, particularly locally based Guernsey companies who could attract, nurture and preserve homegrown talent; offering them the education they desire with an immediate career prospect attached; the individual, the organisation, island society and the economy; all stand to benefit.
The Future for Education
It says something when the most innovative universities worldwide are developing online educational platforms. These institutions are leading education and understand it’s inevitable evolution, setting their marker early for the rest of the world to truly embrace. As it happens, the globe will have access to unlimited resources and the ability to define their own future via a flexible, encouraging and economically efficient model
Millions of people signing up to an affordable course is a winning format for both society and the universities themselves, with numbers vastly expanding due to relative accessibility and minimal costs.
Consider the value offered to emerging digital markets such as Africa; the right economic models coupled with appropriate content delivery methods and state policy offer the opportunity to not only globalise education, but break down fundamental social barriers. It’s time we opened our eyes and looked to the future. Encourage your children, encourage your employees, and most of all; be encouraged.