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Is open knowledge the new face of education?

In the mid-1960s, Benjamin Samuel Bloom, the american educational psychologist, tried to understand the variation that existed in student learning outcomes. According to him, all students could reach a high level of learning when provided with the necessary time and appropriate learning conditions, even if they vary widely in their learning rates.

One-to-one tutoring was probably the best solution to continuously follow a student’s progress, to give him feedback and correctives, but how could we apply that to a massive audience? Well, it seems like new technology has found answers to these questions.

Today’s needs have changed

Times have changed and so has education. Emerging technologies are reshaping the nature of education, are transforming classrooms into more engaging, collaborative and productive learning environments in which instructions can be customized to students’ specific needs, interests and learning styles. But these technologies are not only going to revolutionize the education ecosystem but also will change the workplace learning; mobile devices are the Medium of Preference to access internet, and companies are planning on doing more Mobile-Learning.

However, it is important to underline that dissemination of knowledge is not a new invention but dates back since internet and free online research browser such as Google came into our lives. What is new is the introduction of new technologies into universities courses. With all the changes that technology is giving us, we should have moved beyond that by now. There is a real need to envision the transformation of teaching and learning for 21st century skills.

The Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)

Through this revolutionized way of teaching and learning were born the Massive Online Open Courses, also known as MOOCs. MOOCS, which first formally entered the learning sphere in 2008, gained prominence in 2012 when Stanford University offered the first in what became a series of its own. The concept’s name plainly conveys its definition: the MOOC is “massive” because it is designed to enroll tens of thousands of learners; it’s “open,” because,  anyone with an Internet connection can enroll in the free course; it’s “online” because much if not all of the interaction takes place online in threaded web discussion groups with cohorts of learners, or on wikis, or via online videos of professors giving lectures and finally, MOOC’s are “courses” because they have concrete start and end dates, student assessments, online tests and quizzes, and proctored exams. Some may offer a “verified certificate” of completion or college credit. The leading MOOC providers include Coursera, Udacity and edX.

“The more educated people are, the less problems exist. There is a real opportunity to take the kind of education that is available to the privileged few and turn it into a basic human right”, says the co founder of coursera, Daphne Koller to the president of Northeastern University, Joseph Aoun, “Many find higher education increasingly out of reach”.

Coursera offers high quality content to the world, including to the people who couldn’t access to it. This way, students can now watch classes online at their own pace, but not only students from a specific university, but students from all over the country, all over the world.

Competition to the traditional models of higher education ?

Are economic pressures and new models of education bringing competition to the traditional models? Institutional barriers present challenges to moving forward in a constructive way with emerging technologies.
We are starting to move away from lecturing, specially large lecture classes. The value the institutions provide need to refocus on their purpose, now that quality content won’t be an issue anymore.

The idea of a global university is a compelling one. It seems like global access to content, at least for people with broadband access, it is going to be possible within ten years. The question you have to ask ourselves is what will be called an university in 10 years?

This is an opportunity to globalize what traditional universities used to focus on but also to rethink at a pretty fundamental level what it is that university do, their role in society, how they are structured. There are different experiment with approaches oriented in different ways. For example, they want to make sure that their students get an accreditation mecanism for all the courses where they get the content. They might become  the institution which role is to verify and approve the whole learning process acquired on MOOCs or leave all the teaching to the universities considered as the top ones.  Also, maybe universities will become interactive spaces where students and professors can debate and talk about what they’ve learned online.  Salman Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, talks about his vision for education in 2028 and says that it won’t be longer about sitting passively and not questioning authority, because we should be able to question authority.

 Another important question we need to ask ourselves is what role would take professors then ?  Can this new way of learning really replace a living classroom ?





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