Simon is optimistic that technology will facilitate improved teaching methods, new approaches to education and a drastic re-think of the classroom.
Technology is changing our lives, but is it changing education? Witnessing the evolution of online learning systems, mobile learning applications and others forms of multimedia is truly encouraging, but will these advances find their way into the classroom?
How is technology playing a part in education right now? Simon’s experience of both technology and online learning provides us with some insights.
Studying for a Masters online had marked benefits over traditional learning methods; it allowed a cross cultural consortium of Universities to centralise their knowledge and experience; both students and lecturers worked in an accessible and collaborative environment to drive standards forward and encourage innovation. The course itself grew out of the shared viewpoints only made possible by freeing the course from geographical constraints. We must acknowledge that without advances in technology this environment would not be possible.
Online education has a fundamental benefit; it allows for greater flexibility in the distribution of materials, while ensuring that courses are as accessible to participants as possible; most importantly for me was the reality that online teaching methods free participants from physical constraints and timeframes. Online courses are often taught in an asynchronous environment; time and most crucially place become irrelevant, debates can outlast the ‘lesson’ and the lesson itself is not limited to the classroom.
Ideas and materials flow freely, demanding rapid reasoning skills from students lest they be left behind. Central to this was the assessment process; while students can hide in a lecture theatre, a student in an online environment cannot dodge participation when this is central to their assessment and recorded for all to see. Recording progress had other benefits, it was instrumental in allowing students to reflect on their participation; providing a legacy based on which the module itself can evolve, ensuring modules remain current and appropriate for the students and lecturers that are central to their development.
There was a commonality between myself and my peers; a resistance to the established notion that we best concentrate on one thing at a time!
Online education allowed me to concentrate on building a business, while simultaneously granting me access to the additional knowledge and skills required to succeed. My experiences in business fed into the course, while the course itself provided a catalyst for new business initiatives.
The notion that learning and working are separate stages of life is often re-enforced by linear and traditional methods of education; in contrast online methods are far less restrictive, they are nodal in structure, closer reflecting our interconnected lives. I felt uncomfortable with the idea that education (at least traditionally) has a start and an end, and that we concentrate learning with a view to amassing qualifications into the early stages of our lives; this needn’t be, shouldn’t be and with any luck will cease to be the case.
So why don’t we see more of it?
There are many barriers preventing progress; these are not technological barriers, the technology evolves rapidly, while the ability of students to adapt to new learning environments is aided by their familiarity with social media platforms. The real problems are bigger than that; they are barriers of pre-conception, resistance to change and established organisational and institutional influence over educational norms. Like all forms of change, people stand to lose and structures need to evolve; this is seldom a welcome fact for those that have a vested interest in the current condition.
The difficulty is that educational institutions are often driven to seek short term monetary gains required to survive. Justifying increasing university fee’s is difficult when online methods offer greater accessibility, while minimising the resources required to administer learning. Unfortunately innovation is often stifled by institutions that are resistant to change; changes that are often not conducive with their current economic modalities.
It is both an economic and political problem; how does one finance and organise activities that benefit the commonwealth but run counter to individual and particular interest groups? Potentially a state policy of philanthropic funding, where the benefits of distance learning and access to high quality digital resources are made obvious to society may combat the problem. Radical thinking is needed; for example what would the effect be of diverting a considerable portion of student grants into financing free distance courses?
One thing seems certain, technological innovation will continue to provide new opportunities for education; whether it’s my 7 year old French cousin learning a diverse range of subjects in English, for free via the Khan Network; or postgraduate students like myself seeking learning methods that fit their circumstances; learning is changing, but just how fast, we’ll have to wait and see.