Will the internet revolutionise the way we learn?

The U.S. Department of Labour estimates that 65% of current first graders will end up in a job that has not been invented yet. This statistic […]

The U.S. Department of Labour estimates that 65% of current first graders will end up in a job that has not been invented yet. This statistic shows that it is not what we learn in school that is important, but our skill of how to learn that will make us successful. Our formal educational systems assert fixed curricula to children grouped by age, to be performed at the same pace – no matter what quality of problem-solving or analytical thinking skills are developed. However, the internet is now providing an alternative to this traditional learning model (a model based upon the Prussian education system which was designed not to inspire innovation and creativity but as a form of social conditioning), and the education community is sitting up and taking notice.

How can you not take notice, with services such as Khan Academy, Coursera, YouTube EDU and Knewton engaging minds all over the world, at an ever increasing rate. Perhaps most thought-provoking is how naturally and spontaneously the relationship between the internet and learning has occurred, propelled by demand from online users who are creative and academically engaged. The deep, surprising and fascinating topics of discussion (e.g. what colour is a mirror?) bring into focus the social aspect of learning and creative thinking. Will the internet become a game-changer in how we educate or is it just a passing fad – like how people thought television or radio were going to change education. The difference this time is the ease (both in effort and financially) with which material can be created, broadcast and accessed on the internet in a personalised way.

The future may be that of the ‘flipped classroom’. Students work through podcast lessons and tests in their own time and use their classroom time to work through tutorials and engage in more creative projects allowing collaboration with other students and teachers. In this model, software can provide teachers with information about the progress of a particular student across subject areas by monitoring the rate at which a student works through content and answers questions, equipping teachers with the data they need to effectively engage with students on their specific problem areas. The model also focuses on quality of student knowledge within a time frame that suits the particular student rather than insisting on a fixed time without regard for quality of learning.

Software systems may become so good at analysing the progress and individual learning patterns students that teachers will become redundant. There is criticism that the ‘bells and whistles’ around educational technology are only distracting from the reality of a larger inattention to instructional quality. However, this technology holds great potential to  bring learning to under-resourced, developing countries where even basic forms of education can be a challenge.

The internet has the potential to revolutionise the way we learn, and if it means the replacement of teachers, I don’t expect too many school children to be complaining.

About Anna Zawilska

I am reading for a DPhil in Computer Science concentrating on technology and education. My research interests lie around the intersection between technology and social issues.