Human Potential

Is The Tablet The Classroom Of The Future?

November 24, 2015 at 11:26 AM | Approx. reading time 3 mins.

Kong Qui, the Chinese philosopher once said, "If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people." 2,500 years later, educational institutions are still experimenting with models of learning that address the needs of students.

A vast majority of the world's population, including natives in developed countries, do not lead a productive life due to the lack of basic education and skills programs. More importantly, the educated have not been taught to think creatively. Traditional education systems have not encouraged student engagement in the learning process, thus far.

Digital technologies realize collaborative learning and functional literacy. Online learning portals provide personal tutelage across education needs - from primary schooling to advanced technical skill development. Digital learning platforms provide access to quality education at minimal or no cost. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER), the most common forms of Internet-based learning programs, enable students in distant lands to pursue courses of interest, anytime.

Elite universities offer free access to course content and rich resources. MIT OpenCourseWare, the OER platform of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) provides access to content for 2,150 courses. Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjin, the first M.I.T. graduate from Mongolia and the principal of the Sant School in Ulan Bator, facilitated M.I.T. Circuits and Electronics MOOC lectures for a batch of 20 students. It helped Battushig Myanganbayar, a 15-year-old student, perform exceedingly well at the M.I.T. sophomore class.

Udemy offers over 30,000 courses in 80 languages through a team of 17,000 global instructors. Khan Academy offers free access to a repository of 10,000+ videos, ranging from math for primary grades to economics, finance, arts, history, medicine, and computer programming.

The University of Pennsylvania, University of Washington, and Coursera, a leading online learning service provider, surveyed 52,000 students who completed Coursera's courses. More than 72% undertook online courses to achieve career benefits, and 87% realized it. Participants considered themselves to be better prepared for the current role or enhanced responsibilities on completion of their online course. Almost 33% individuals realized tangible benefits such as increased pay, a promotion, or self-confidence to start a new business.

"Tangible benefits are reported at an even higher rate among learners from emerging economies, in lower SES [socioeconomic status] brackets, and from other non-traditional education backgrounds, signaling that MOOCs are able to help those with great need," according to Daphne Koller, president and co-founder of Coursera.

So, is virtual teaching an alternative to traditional schools? Are MOOCs and OERs a threat to the hallowed institutions that have built their reputation over centuries? The discussion on the optimal learning methodology remains open-ended. On the one hand, the online medium provides access to millions of students, but may not provide personalized tutoring to address the 'learning curve.' On the other hand, classroom learning encourages debate and blue-sky thinking, but does not reach out to students beyond the classroom. Learning portals have reported high attrition rates, and knowledge retention is poor. In addition, parents and teachers oppose the replacement of face-to-face interaction with screens and social networks.

A pragmatic approach may be a blended learning methodology that incorporates experiential learning with online instruction. This approach will enhance learning for school / college students as well as working professionals.

Confucius believed that students should learn computation as one of six essential arts. The use of computational technology and in-class learning may just be the answer to sharing knowledge and enriching the learning process.