Education technology and its delivery are going through a revolutionary change today. In the digital age, chalk and talk is history. On one hand, with depleting attention span of learners, new learning pedagogy is needed. And on the other, integrating digital tools into education, from school to University, is must. But which are these tools, what are their strengths and weaknesses and how to integrate the same?
Brick & Mortar
This has been the usual learning in the classroom taught by teachers who speak the last word on the subject, coupled with learning in the library from hard copy books, and evaluating through examinations written in examination halls. And this one line has formed the core of brick and mortar education for decades now. Not that it has completely gone obsolete, but much has changed and shall change.
Brick and mortar still is the core of education delivery. We need teachers as role models and a human touch, for clarifications and for inspiration. A good teacher motivates a learner to be open to even tough subjects. I still remember the way our school Chemistry teacher introduced “the mysteries of Chemistry” to us, or how our school Mathematics teacher teased our brains with mathematical quiz and made complex formulae learn easily through a step by step logical process, almost like a rational story.
Also brick and mortar gives us peers, brings in a sense of collaboration and teamwork, makes us more social, and gives our first circle of friends much of which remains till death.
Click & Portal
The West first brought the concept of online learning. Entire courses came to be presented online through the blend of text, pdfs, audio (podcasts) and video, and finally blended where all of these are converged to make the learning experience diverse to the sense organs and pleasing to internalize. Indeed it has been a step forward and there emerged an entire range of edu-tech companies catering to this. New range of e-learning tools and resources, e-tutors, self-learning through Khan Academy videos for school education and Coursera videos and courses for higher education have now emerged. They are sometimes aid to mainstream learning, and at times these online resources become the mainstream learning itself.
However, such an approach, when taken to its logical conclusion and in its entirety, makes education mechanical, bereft of role models, inspiration, peer group and teamwork. Many critics have noted that such an approach leads to geeks and robotic minds. Oriental criticisms may be unkind, but not bereft of some truth. The good old campus life, peer-network, teacher as a guru etc do have their own place under the sun.
Ancient Gurukul System in our civilization has eulogised learning by doing with a Guru in front as an inspiring role model and learners staying together in ashramas or Gurukuls for collective learning and a spirit of fraternal competition. Even in the post industrial world, many with basic education went directly into the factory system, into workshops and offices and picked up skills on the job, learning by doing.
While experiential learning makes a strong case of hands-on ready-to-use skills being imparted only through this pedagogy, the major limitation of this is while it answers to ‘How’ questions of skills, it does not delve deep into ‘Why’ questions of any issue. It renders itself limited to a repetitive process and learning by default, rather than by design. It is highly empirical learning, more by observation and repeated attempts, rather than having any normative and summative components. In true education, we need to learn how to do any work, along with the clear answers to why to do that, when to do (and not to do), what is the continuity or history of that skill/knowledge, etc. All of these cannot be easily learnt only through on the job experiential training, but we do need a formal and structured learning architecture as well.
Experiential Brick & Portal Learning
As we proceed into a Knowledge Economy, and also a society which needs all the more reasons to interact and mutually empower one another, education is increasingly moving towards the right futuristic model in its delivery: Experiential Brick & Portal Learning (EBPL).
Education to be diverse in scope, humane in approach, technical in skills, and internalized in its impact must combine the best elements of all the three noted above seamlessly and without mutual conflict.
While classrooms bring in teachers and peers, the approach should move from ‘teacher being the ultimate interpreter of knowledge’ to ‘teacher replaced by compassionate mentor not speaking the last word in the subject but being the first stimulus for the learner’. The learner has to follow it up with self-learning and passion to pursue knowledge, skills and applications on his/her own, particularly in the domain of higher education.
Since no teacher/mentor can ever know everything of any subject, classroom is only the first stimulus and how a subject is introduced is the source of interest to grow or not for the learner. Internet or the cyber media must have to be adopted, kindle has to be source of reading, search online to complement library offline, and tools of networking should also be used in education. But these are aid to learning, these cannot replace teachers and peers, but can complement their efforts and role.
We need to enumerate various educational pedagogy and approaches, and then move to learn in details, with cases and tasks to apply, the concept of blending or synergizing between the class room/library brick and mortar education with internet/cyber-based click and portal learning and experiential learning by doing. This EBPL approach is all the more significant in creative domains like media, communication, design et al. In these domains, knowledge is evolved from practice and practice evolves every day.
Today’s creative education exhibits in great details how we can move from a teacher/syllabus-centric education to learner/learning-centric education: from school to University, and how teachers have to be facilitators at the minimum and mentors at the best.
On Campus Practices
A leading management college has started using whatsapp as a tool to enhance attendance. It makes 2 minutes video with a touch of humour and creativity on the major theme of the next day in session and sends it a night or two before to enhance interest of the learners.
Flip classroom methodology has been started by several management and engineering institutes where power-point presentation on the subject of discussion a day or two later is given along with online and offline reading resources. The class begins with a quiz to assess the level of information and understanding of the learners on the subject, then moves into clarifications and case-studies.
Using a relevant Coursera online course along with an offline workshop or classroom teaching of similar topics is another practice that has started and is often seen for media, management, communication courses.
After discussing development and organizations in the classroom, reading cases and documented examples, a few management and communication institutes have started sending learners to study development organizations and apply management principles and communication skills to contribute some value to them for a period of 4 to 10 weeks calling it Corporate Citizenship or Development Internship project. Participant observation studies are made components of learning in which a learner stays in a community, observes its dynamics, does a research and also contribute some value in terms of processes and documentation.
Many universities have institutionalized a mixed evaluation process of integrating project work with online research and offline written examination to have a holistic approach to evaluating learning outcomes of their students. And this process is obviously a continuous evaluation.
This is in sharp contrast to one-time year-end or twice a year written exams which determined grades and marks of learners for all their lives.
Imaginative way of engaged and empowered learning and multi-pronged evaluation to test all of these: comprehension, retention, imagination and application, can only be the way ahead ensuring learning by doing, in classroom and through the internet.
Finnish Innovation Labs in Education
Education system of Finland is considered to be the finest in the world. In the Finnish Innovation Labs in education, specially at higher education level, there is no formal teaching, but a collective learning by doing where a theme is introduced, ground rules are set, the learners in groups explore it themselves through self-study, cases, survey or research on ground, and coming together and sharing results at every level, discarding those that do not stand strong.
The entire edifice of Finnish education system is founded on one core belief—learning by doing—that inherently values trust and responsibility. Further, the same belief—effective learning can happen when it is self-directed and self-regulated—got firmly imprinted in my mind. For example, Finland’s OAMK Labs function on the fundamental premise that “Students learn best when they are given the needed freedom to experiment and fail.” ‘Learning’ rather than ‘numerical outcome ‘should become the key component and occupy the center stage to keep education in line with the ‘Self-determination’ Theory—one that propounds that pupils perform better when they are motivated by intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Hence, there are no marks, only grades; and rewards are more in the form of joy of discovery, bonding, and field-work.
(The author is currently School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy; and has been earlier the Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities, and Dean of Whistling Woods School of Communication, among other engagements).