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Heard: What’s The Single Biggest Innovation In Education In Last 200 Years?

By on January 22, 2013
Blended Learning, Cost of Education, Domestic, K-12, Minorities, MOOCs, OER - Open Educational Resources, Opinion, Personalized Learning, Required, Startups, Technology, Universities & Colleges

Future Or Bust! Paul Hocksenar via Compfight

Antonio Regalado, our former health/science writer colleague at The Wall Street Journal, wrote about the future of education recently in the MIT Technology Review. He asks what is the single biggest innovation in education in the last 200 years? The piece is worth a read (link below). First some choice excerpts here:

Don’t worry if you come up blank. You’re supposed to. The question is a gambit used by Anant Agarwal, the computer scientist named this year to head edX, a $60 million MIT-Harvard effort to stream a college education over the Web, free, to anyone who wants one. His point: it’s rare to see major technological advances in how people learn. Agarwal believes that education is about to change dramatically. The reason is the power of the Web and its associated data-crunching technologies. Thanks to these changes, it’s now possible to stream video classes with sophisticated interactive elements, and researchers can scoop up student data that could help them make teaching more effective. The technology is powerful, fairly cheap, and global in its reach…

Khan’s simple videos aren’t without their critics, who wonder whether his tutorials really teach math so well. “We agree 100 percent we aren’t going to solve education’s problems,” Khan responds. But he says the point to keep in mind is that technology-wise, “we’re in the top of the first inning.” He’ll be pouring about $10 million a year into making his videos better—already there are embedded exercises and analytics that let teachers track 50 or 100 students at once. Pretty soon, Khan told me, his free stuff “will be as good or better than anything anyone is charging money for.” Digital instruction faces limits. Online, you will never smell a burning resistor or get your hands wet in a biology lab. Yet the economics of distributing instruction over the Web are so favorable that they seem to threaten anyone building a campus or hiring teachers. At edX, Agarwal says, the same three-person team of a professor plus assistants that used to teach analog circuit design to 400 students at MIT now handles 10,000 online and could take a hundred times more…

Even though only a small fraction of those will actually complete a class, the rise of the MOOCs means we can begin thinking about how free, top-quality education could change the world. Khan’s videos are popular in India, and the MOOC purveyors have found that 60 percent of their sign-ups are self-starters from knowledge-hungry nations like Brazil and China. Nobody knows what a liberal application of high-octane educational propellant might do. Will it supersize innovation globally by knocking away barriers to good instruction? Will frightened governments censor teachers as they have the Web?

Technology will define where online education goes next. All those millions of students clicking online can have their progress tracked, logged, studied, and probably influenced, too. Talk to Khan or anyone behind the MOOCs (which largely sprang from university departments interested in computer intelligence) and they’ll all say their eventual goal isn’t to stream videos but to perfect education through the scientific use of data. Just imagine, they say, software that maps an individual’s knowledge and offers a lesson plan unique to him or her. Will they succeed and create something truly different? If they do, we’ll have the answer to our question: online learning will be the most important innovation in education in the last 200 years.

Via MIT Technology Review



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