Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Education 3.0

I have spent my entire professional life working with students. It's been a good 17 years now. I have taught almost every single day, prepared courseware for various subjects, read across totally unrelated disciplines, and motivated students to excel in various endeavours. This has given me a SOLID understanding of how effective teaching can be done inside a classroom, why teachers bomb inside classrooms, and why some are heralded as messiahs.

Having been there and done that, as I now peep ahead, and try to envision what learning will become in the future, some strange images start to appear before me. I will try and share those in this blogpost.

Before I talk of the future, a quick recap of the past. I feel there have primarily been two major versions of education system in man's entire journey. Mankind is a recent arrival on this planet, and for the approximately 2 or 3 lac years that we have been around in more or less this modern format (homo sapiens, erect posture etc.), our primary method of education was "Observe, Repeat, Inculcate".

The seniors would hunt, forage or gather, and the juniors would look with interest. Then they would try. And fail. So they would look at the seniors again. And try. And maybe succeed. This method - Observe, Repeat, Inculcate - is what I call mankind's Education System ver 1.0.

The key features of this version 1.0 were -

  1. Unstructured learning experiences - nobody would "instruct", kids would just learn
  2. Holistic learning experiences - the processes were totally 360 degrees (naturally!)
  3. Practical orientation of learning experiences - there were no artificial classrooms
Then came the agricultural revolution around 5000 years ago.. and with it came the formalisation of the society. It is very interesting to note how in just 2000 years, mankind changed its entire appearance. From nomadic groups, we settled into tribes, villages, towns and ultimately cities. And marriage was born. Law and Order was born. Politics was born. Formal Religion was born. And finally, Formal Education was born.

This was Education System ver 2.0. For the first time, with increasing complexity of our societies, the need was felt to structure everything in the learning processes. The Indian Gurukul system stands as a fine example of this exercise. Shishyas (students) would stay with the Gurus (Teachers) in their Ashramas (Boarding Schools) for a long time, and through a detailed formal process, undertake the process of learning and preparing for life.

As the Industrial Revolution picked pace, jobs became more and more specialised. And thus arose the need to further offer learning solutions for specialised domains. This fragmented the education system and "specialisations" arose across the world, across "domains". As society's complexity grew even more, the number and range of specialisations grew. The Education System ver 2.0 became more and more formalised and fragmented.

The key features of this newer version 2.0 were -
  1. Structured learning experiences - teachers would formally instruct kids
  2. Fragmented learning experiences - learning was broken up into separate pieces
  3. Theoretical orientation of learning experiences - artificial classrooms created artificial, theoretical experiences
Although the version 2.0 had these apparent drawbacks, it has persisted for (thousands of) years now. That's because it prepares its participants (students) wonderfully well for a narrow range of activities expected out of them in a specialised domain. Nothing more. If someone wants to have a broad-brush type of expertise, he/she has to personally make the effort, mostly out of the formal domain, to learn newer things regularly. The version 2.0 simply adjusted itself to the new reality - a society that wanted more and more specialised knowledge, and took pride in it.

Then came the 1950s. With the knowledge revolution taking shape (the first silicon chip was made around this time), it soon became apparent that the version 2.0 will not suit our evolving needs fully. Dr Peter F Drucker beautifully envisioned it back then, and wrote about the emergence of a "knowledge society" and a "knowledge worker". That surely happened through 1960s, 70s, 80s and the 90s.

But while this was happening, the world was becoming a more and more integrated place. The rapid spread of the idea of globalisation across the world led to sharing of common practices. And these were across domains. Social, political, cultural - all kinds of practices began taking an amorphous global contour. Indians started enjoying McDonalds as much as Americans started revering Yoga.

And how did "the idea of globalisation" spread so rapidly around the world? Well, technology ensured that. Computers, telecommunication and internet all came together in a potent mix to change our perceptions from local to global.

But strangely, the extremely rigid structure of Education System version 2.0 refused to change. Call it inertia or the reputation of the solidified (ossified) Universities around the world, the methods and processes used to teach and learn more or less have remained the same the world over. Even where technology seems to have entered the classroom, nothing much has changed. At least, the teachers' mindsets have not.

But the final nail in the coffin of version 2.0 will soon be struck. And I personally feel that "the irrepresible rise of online Social Media (OSM)" will do that.


Look at how a kid of say, 12 years, today leads out his/her life. He attends school daily, which is a pretty linear experience - everything is a straight line, fixed books, fixed syllabus, fixed friends, fixed teachers, fixed classrooms, fixed holidays (declared months in advance - I often suspect most schoolowners find this part most exciting and rewarding), fixed everything - and comes back home. And then jumps into his virtual world which is a totally 360 degrees experience.

While he is online, the kid does Social Media of all kinds. Facebook. Orkut. Twitter. Skype. Each one of these pulls his imagination into multiple directions with totally random inputs emanating from who-knows-where-next. Chat. SMS. Video. Talk. He keeps inputting his data and wisdom (whatever) into the media, and shares it with the world. The world is doing the same with him. There are no boundaries. There is nothing linear. And I have not even started talking about Video Games so far! When he opens the games sites, a whole new world of mind-body challenge is awaiting his daring escapades. (My friend Vishal Gondal (God-in-chief, IndiaGames) will be happy to learn that I am a big votary of using video-games as part of regular learning processes. I am, in fact, about to implement some parts of this philosophy at my business school PROTON, starting with a daylong video-gaming competition designed to bring out the best of mind-body coordination, strategic planning and operations skills, in my students.)

And then this schoolkid of ours goes to bed, wakes up, and re-enters his linear world of modern schooling! Ahhh.

{ Don't underestimate the power of social media. They are not just playtools. They are powerful catalysts of change. Social change. Any professional who has worked with/on/for softwares in his official work environment knows how boring, unidimensional and gray they can look and feel. The world of online social media (Wikis, Waves, Blogs, Diggs, StumbleUpons..) can be totally different. Colourful. Stable. Unrestricted. Multi-dimensional. High-performance. I personally feel some of the world's best brains are designing these 'sites' and the technology being used is so user-friendly (it has to be, else how will 300 million users work on it regularly with so few glitches!) it makes one salivate. So when I talk of OSM, I refer to the whole suite of technologies that are being built to address every conceivable niche of our communication and learning needs. }

OK! I know you don't quite agree. You feel this is not representative of all kids. Agreed! But for how long will we be able to hold onto that argument? Another year? Three years? Even in developing world countries, the inevitable rise of living standards, 3G, internet penetration and computer hardware (inside homes) will mean every kid has access to all this. And as NIIT's pathbreaking "hole-in-the-wall" experiment with disadvantaged kids has proven, it will take an amazingly short period of time for students of young age to master these new technologies. At least - the operational part of it (if not the design and programming part). And they do it best when left unsupervised!

And what will happen then?

Will this total disparity between a formal linear learning world (school), and an unrestricted multi-dimensional 360 degrees not create big questions?

I was lucky to have been pulled into the online world around June 2008 through a rather inspirational invite to join LinkedIn from my roommate of IIT-Delhi days (who heads McKinsey KC ops in India). Ever since, I have spent quality time online discovering the seemingly limitless possibilities OSM offers.

While I do not recommend we tear down the version 2.0 totally, I do suggest we take a hard look at what components are useful for the next decades, and discard the rest.

A cursory glance at the prism of OSM in the image above will convince you of the possibilities of new-gen learning / collaboration / working I refer to. So, let's move to the questions now!
  • What will (should) classrooms of the future look like?
  • How can we leverage the power of OSM in learning experiences?
  • How can we integrate formal teaching with audio-visual-sensory-etc. media?
  • What should be the role of teachers in these classrooms of the future?
  • What should students' approach be, in these learning environments of the future?
  • What should learning processes be designed to achieve in the world of the future?
  • What kind of a world are we (should we be) preparing everyone for?
  • What skills will effective teachers of the future need?
  • How soon can a smooth transition from ver 2.0 to 3.0 be made?
Remember, the physical world of the future is far more integrated and seamless than we can visualise. In that kind of a world, what kind of skills will make people successful? Linear? Or 360 degrees?

Welcome to the brave new world of Education System version 3.0.

Shall I end without playing the devil's advocate? Not at all. I wonder, when all this technology stuff will fill our daily world, our homes, our classrooms (whatever shape they would've taken by then), our mobilesets and what not.. how will our kids learn most basic human values - empathy, teamwork, compassion, truthfulness, ethics, professionalism?

Will love to hear your comments.


Indresh said...

1. Knowledge is power and wisdom.
2. Knowledge is infinite.
3. Life is limited, and out of it the formal education time is even more limited.
4. May be the edcuation system overall needs to be made around the folllowing setup -
4.1 Yes, it should be 360* approach, should benifit both to the individual as well as to the society.
4.2 The methods of learning are to be understood and alligned to the following fact - "dheere dheere re mana, dheere sab kuch hoye, mali sinche so ghada, ritu aaye phal hoye".
4.3 The learning has to come so naturaly and should fully be alligned to the interest / default inclination of the individual, a tool for ascertaining the area of interest and further potential to excel in a specific field is still missing , may be some more and surely effective methods/approach are yet to be discovered.
For the moment this much only, may be I'll write something more some other time.

Akshay Kothari said...

Respected Sir,

Thanks for making us feel about the rapid changes in Education system and style.

It can be easily noticed that with ongoing generations the way people learn and absorb things have drastically changed.
1)Before it was the stick in the hand of teacher which made people learn maths tables and today its UCMAS with its differnt techniques which make students solve some of the tedious calculations in seconds.
2)Before disipline and priciples were given major importance,today its all about learning concepts.
3)People before would remember their teachers for their whole life and today is the era of visiting faculties.

In my perception,with the change in technology and growing professionalism education system would be much more easier to learn the concepts,but it would fail to take that learnings deep into the heart with top level of disipline.

Lets wait and see how education would change it phase in coming generations.

Proton Akshay

manish chaurasiya said...

this article is like a vision statement for the future of our education system.
But the transition would be slow unless:
1. Increased Corporate investment into our school education system.
2. Training the teachers to utilize and encourage the use of OSM effectively.(Starting a diploma course in OSM would be a gr8 idea to begin with).
3. Curriculum should include OSM tools, its pros n cons and skills development around it. e.g. teachers should give some homework on OSM and discuss it in the class.
It'll not only make the kids more social, but also grow their intellectual understanding of the surrounding world.

and thanks to this blog....now we could directly interact with the "GOD"!!:)

Unknown said...

Technology will bring in a big disruption to Education like it is doing in other areas. With the advent of Social Media and Other Online Collaboration Systems it would be easy to bring knowledge of one place effectively to learning environment.

Please remember Social Media is a double edged sword and has its own share of problems. So while a Wikipedia is a classic case of online collaboration, just because the actual contents are not validated the authenticity of the information is not there and it even results in a lot of factually incorrect information. All said and done, social media is here to stay.

Now about how Social Media would impact education, in my opinion, the world would move at a much quicker pace, changes would happen faster, people's consumption pattern would change and everything would be driven by choice. This is what I guess the education system should be geared up. So as an example if there are 60 students in a classroom all of them would study only things they want to (I am talking about higher education) and they would be served personalised course materials.

Maybe IBM would tag it "Education - On Demand" :). That in my opionion would be Education 3.0 and technology would be a facilitator

Test said...

Indresh, Akshay, Manish - I loved reading your comments. They are so detailed, well-thought, and nicely articulated. Keep reading, keep commenting. We all grow together :-)

Arya said...

Present Classroom professor-blackboard-textbook learning is dull, slow, uninteresting.

Learning in the 3rd version has to sell itself, market itself to learners and fully involve, engage them. Gone are the days when classroom was a temple and students came to worship knowledge. Tommorrows classrooms would have to market learning not only to the students concious and subconcious mind, but also to his heart by making him passionate about the subject and turning him on to seek more. We need to market learning as we market consumer products.

Documentaries, animations, videos, interviews engage the eyes, ears and senses in the most fulfilling manner. Read a text book on human emryonic development or the human immune system and then watch a documentary on it with all its colourful animations, beautiful voice with all its ups and downs, wonder awe-inspiring background music and beats. The latter markets the knowledge immediately to your brain, mind and heart. Just observe the hairs on your hand when you come across such a documentary.

The purpose of education is not to deliver facts and knowledge but to make a student curious, satisfy his curiousity and fuel it further by making him passionate about the subject. Then actively engage him in discussions and exchange of thoughts and ideas. Once you are interested, then you start searching on the net to know more - blogs, wikipedia, youtube, research papers, website, online ecyclopedias, google earth, forums.. etc

Unknown said...

Respected Sir,

I really liked this insightful article. Yes,here now the overall education system is getting a new shape, a revolutionary beginning of a better and effective way for kids to understand things and gain knowledge. I presently am working on being a part of this change by introducing Indian kids to a new way of learning. http://brainplex.in/html/how_does_it_work.htm
This is on the same lines and it uses better customized solutions for each student and then foster them with the basics. I believe, the sooner the schooling industry accepts this change, the better Indian kids would stand against their counterparts from other countries. I personally believe the values and discipline are a part of overall upbringing at home, at school, at sports and with peers and it wont be neglected/hindered in this new system.


Kamal Kabra said...

Good morning Sir,
I was not expecting the end of blog in this manner(some thing more about version 3.0)but it's quite true that how a student/children will learn the basic human values?
Sir,will you please share more of your thoughts regarding version 3.0.

With regards,

Srijit Jain said...

Respected Sir,

It was a privilege to read such an insightful post on evolution of education and its future. But while reading I was constantly feeling a bit of restiveness and thought of sharing my views on the same.

First, I would like to put a little background about me which would help to comprehend my opinion:-

I belong to Vidisha which is a semi-urban city in MP. I had been a teacher of Basic English language and Botany in a friend’s coaching institute while I was pursuing graduation.

Now, here are my observations and opinion:-

1.) English:-

Nearly 70 % of total schools in my city are Hindi medium schools where English is considered as a subject rather than a language by most of the parents, teachers and students and hence they fail to explore and learn by their own. English is a language and it can easily be taught by creating a suitable environment. But unfortunately, our education system badly lacks it.
2.) Career selection:-

After getting the primary education a child can be prepared to compose himself for taking a very essential and strategic decision of his life and that is to choose a right career. But our children lack such vocational maturity for a long period of time. By vocational maturity I mean awareness, knowledge and understanding of world. They remain unknown to their own abilities and self-concept. I don’t know who to blame; educational planners, curriculum-designers, teachers or parents.
3.) Poor psychological development:-

An important turning point occurs around age six. A child entering school is at a point in development when behavior is dominated by intellectual curiosity and performance. The danger at this stage is that the child may experience feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. If the child is encouraged to do things, finish the tasks, and praised for trying, a sense of industry is the result and on the other hand if child’s efforts are unsuccessful, or if he is criticized or treated as bothersome it develops a sense of inferiority. I was one of such victims and that lasted until I passed higher secondary.

I also welcome to the brave new world of education system version 3.0 but benefits of OSM to these children looks far from their reach and not convincing to me. Until these issues are unresolved OSM’s effects in three years are unlikely to be seen.
Srajit Jain

Unknown said...

Hi SM,
Amazingly thought provoking!
What would be your thoughts on how the whole purpose of education has transformed during these versions?

Test said...

Arya - beautifully said. Learning has to engage. That one statement covers the entire spirit!

Pavitra - nice to hear about your initiatives. Keep it up!

Kamal - intelligent observation. The end in that manner was designed for a specific reason!

Srijit - I totally agree with your grassroot level observarions. My dear, I face similar challenges. And trust me, all teachers across India must be facing some or the other variant of these. So, the problem seems to be fairly generic, right? The spread of technology is inevitable. Look at what happened to mobile phones. A decade ago, where were they? And today? They are almost an appendage to our bodies. The same will happen with a lot of technologies waiting in the wings, and when that happens (maybe 10, 20years from now) the world as we know it will have changed. I have seen that with the coming in of a new generation, big changes happen. So there's hope.

HT - The purpose of education essentially remains the same - preparing for life. The definition of "life" seems to keep evolving from time to time. I have covered that in the blogpost.

smthin differnt said...

respected sir,
amazing thought...m njoy vry mch...

Dhiraj Kumar Motwani said...

Dear Sir,

Great post!

Dhiraj Motwani

Test said...

smthin different, Dhiraj - thanks for reading and commenting!

Shenky Agrawal said...

Great post
these is really mind-opening VER 3.0
But sir,there are some bad sides also of these social media and Games.
Like,when people get involved in it
they get so much involved that they forget all other important work and useless friendship and meaningless games sometimes create havoc in mind.But all prefer to ourselves that what we choose.Thanks for the great insight Sir.

Pt Shenky Agrawal

Test said...

Hi Shenky - yes I totally agree. But once you have spent some months doing OSM, you realise what's good and what's not, and then you start to stabilise. But then ultimately, it is your personal choice when it comes to "how to spend" time online.