In the past couple of decades many ideas and products have caused a disruptive innovation and have contributed to the world economy. Here are a couple of examples: television, flash drives, tele-health, cloud computing, supersonic transport, touch-phones etc. Means it is totally safe to say that every industry such as communication, media, news, computers, healthcare, agriculture, web, transportation and any other industry for that mater has undergone a major transition from becoming a luxury to what now we all label as a basic-need.
Yes, every industry, except one and that is ‘education’. The basic elements of the education ecosystem still remain the same as they were almost a century ago. Twelve years of education if you want to get into a Bachelors program at a decent university and sixteen years of education to get into a decent Masters program, is required and nobody in the last hundred years has been able to disrupt this. Even the textbooks, the methods of teaching and the methods of learning are as old as fossils.
But one man with his vision of a ‘school in the cloud’ and a couple of entrepreneurs out there with similar ideas are all set on track to transform the future education and 2013 might perhaps just be the year when we get to see the tables turn.
That man is Sugata Mitra. Sugata’s first experiment was back in 1999 when he created a ‘hole in the wall’ (a computer kiosk) in the slums of Dehli and learned that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own using public computers in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds, even without knowing English. Leading on to 2013, Sugata won the 1 million dollar TEDPrize to create a ‘self-organised learning environment’ (SOLE) also known as a ‘school in the cloud’. His main agenda is that learning of the future will be self-directed and teachers won’t be contributing much to the educational ecosystem and will be there just to assess and support the students.
But this experiment is just one part of the bigger disruption that the educational system will see in 2013 and onwards and MOOCs will have a great contribution to this revolution.
Massive Online Open Courses, also known as MOOCs are gradually becoming the hub of collaborative online learning and they come in different flavors. Online services such as Coursera, edX, Udacity allow students from world-over to enroll in courses being offered by some of the top universities and also allow them to compete for grades and percentage and even offer a certificate of completion. These MOOCs usually follow a certain format where the lecture videos are posted online every week so any student who wishes to listen, see and learn them can do so in their own time and will and then the students are tested in form of short quizzes and assignments.
Internet and technology has opened up barriers to this sort of untraditional learning as you don’t need to be a privileged student to take a course from Stanford or MIT anymore. In fact, interactive technologies such as flash and HTML5 allow the course designers to make students interact with their course content as the course progresses. The Khan Academy is perhaps another great example of how disruptive innovation in education will be the next big thing of this decade. The Khan Academy, founded in 2006 by Salman Khan, now hosts over 4000 micro lectures on a variety of subjects such as maths, chemistry, biology, healthcare, astronomy, physics, finance, etc and so far has served over 240 million lessons. Another great example is TED, the non-profit with an aim of ‘ideas worth spreading’, which hosts 18-minute talks on various subjects and has served a whopping 1 billion videos to its audience.
These online services, intentionally or unintentionally, are creating a positive disruption that the world really needs right now and age and ‘numbers of years of education’ are slowly fading into the background as mere numbers with no value in the real world. Our very own Khadija Niazi from Pakistan is a shining example. Khadija, 12, was recently invited to the World Economic Forum at Davos to share her experience of taking online courses offered by platforms like Coursera and Udacity and she is already taking a course online on one of her favorite subjects, Astrobiology, which otherwise would have never been possible in the traditional educational system in her current stage.
While the pros are there, open knowledge and online education does come with some boundary concerns and the lack of social interaction. But even they aren’t the hurdles anymore. The advent of social networking sites likes Meetup.com encourage students to create offline group gatherings and meetups and meet each other to study together, watch video lectures and then collaborate to solve problems.
It is perhaps safe to say open education is the next big disruption of education economy.
A version of this article appeared in April 2013 issue of Spider Magazine.