A TEDx conversation with Antan Agarwal

What does it mean Massive Open Online Courses? (not only, but also) Million of people having free access to high level education offered also by very famous Universities.

This could be all alone an already highly impressive statement. Anyway, what fascinates me most of MOOCs, is the fact that they are offered thanks to the application of the huge technology revolution we are experiencing to one of the most classical and daily aspect of our lives.

As Antant Agarwal reminds us, education hasn’t changed a lot in the last 500 years. Anyway, in one moment, printed books, dashboards, etc. had an impact on the fruition of education. We can think about these elements as technologies that changed education and imagine how ongoing progress can actually transform education’ quality, access, scale.

Agarwal suggest that we “cannot really reengineering education” but that we should “completely re-imagining it”. It is to say that, instead of thinking only about offering online classe, we can imagine to offer online exercises, gamified laboratories, peer interaction, forum to discuss without having to pay too much attention to physical proximity.

Some organizations (e.g. Ed-x) and some Universities (e.g. MIT) are strongly committed to pursue this objective and are experiencing good results, especially around the issue of accessibility to education. Anyway, we should not only focus on “the numbers of education” while trying to find a good justification to innovation in education systems. Indeed, taking another perspective on MOOCs, we could focus on the crucial issue of communication in the internet era and on the generational change of education’ public. The so called millennials generation or digital native’ generations, is naturally prepared to technology and this should be considered while thinking about the future of our education systems. Agarwal suggests to “embrace technology, embrace millennials” and, for example, think about the importance of video, of having the possibility to listen to other people teaching them something directly from their bedroom.

If these were the only ingredients of Agarwal’s recipe for the future of education, I would have been really scared, since I am a big fun of human-human interaction, empathy and in-depth relationships inspiring me.

Anyway, Agrawal gives a great importance also to “physical” elements of education, putting at the center of his dissertation interactive laboratories and better thought face-to-face education moments focused on collaboration between students and also between students and professors.

After some pilots actions, Agrawal can suggest some key ideas – also taken from the most classical learning theories – that we could pursue in a more committed way in education systems thanks to new technologies:

  1. Active learning, meaning that students do not only listen passively to a teacher but have some “classic” learning moments flanked by interactive exercises (a sort of “ultimate Socratization” of education, or simply “teaching by asking questions”).
  2. Self-pacing, meaning that thanks to new technologies student could focus on their own necessities in a easier way, listening twice if they could not understand well or if they found a passage of the lesson particularly interesting.
  3. Instant feedback, meaning that students can actually see immediately if they are right or no becoming much more engaged in their own learning process and also receiving immediate satisfaction from their work.
  4. Gamification applied in online labs to engage better student in learning stimulating also creativity and design skills.
  5. Peer learning, meaning that you can use discussion forum and Facebook-like interaction to help students in their learning and changing the classical scheme trough which only teachers teach.


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