For centuries, learners across the world have been imposed to attend brick-and-mortar schools whenever they wished to learn further, acquire skills and gain knowledge. Educational mainstream has always meant traditional schools and colleges that require the students to attend classes on a regular basis, sit in exams and listen to lecturers for seemingly endless hours within walls. But things are gradually changing. Classrooms are changing. Online degree programs have freed the learners from the compulsion of pursuing higher education from brick-and-mortar schools only. The other part of the story is that brick-and-mortar colleges are also allowing their students to use gadgets inside classrooms, text, tweet, share, Google and everything. This is a radical change that has silently happened inside classrooms, both online and onsite. Therefore, that ‘another brick in the wall’ has been demolished by the students themselves, quite unknowingly.
Tim Berners-Lee and democratization of education
As Professor Cathy Davidson of Duke University explains it, pedagogical elements that have been traditionally used in brick-and-mortar colleges (e.g. books etc) were developed for the late eighteenth century people. If we analyze her comment from the historical point of view, we could discover that during the late 18th century, steam-powered presses started to produce books in large numbers. As a result, books became easily available for the students.
With the advent of the internet (many of us search Google now-a-days, rather ‘just Google’ quite instinctually), traditional pedagogical elements have become quite obsolete now. Professor Tim Berners-Lee, who is regarded as the inventor of the World Wide Web, had inseminated the seed of this revolution years ago. And now, internet has become the core of the instructional and learning methods followed by leading e-colleges. This is the fourth information age where everyone is thinking differently, sharing their own images, thoughts, videos on the internet. Everybody is different and democratized learning environment pays due honor to this radical change in the society.
The education hierarchy is no more alive, at least in the online learning world.
Education is the manifestation of knowledge which is already there
Professor Sugata Mitra works for NIIT, a global education company. In 1999, he retrofitted a computer on a wall on Kalkaji area in New delhi, India. The area was surrounded by slums and he surprisingly found that kids from the nearby slum areas gradually grasped the knowledge of how to use a computer despite they were just left to use that computer unsupervised. Given the socio-economic scenario of India at that time when computers were mostly alien objects even to the most of the residents of the big cities of India, this was truly amazing. Mitra himself was surprised at this achievement of the kids and started making such ‘hole in the wall’ experiments in different parts of India, Africa and Cambodia. Each of the experiments delivered the same result.
Mitra’s findings are the bedrock of this discussion. He categorically proved that educational model should not be necessarily a cascading process where teachers impart their earned knowledge to their students and the baton is passed on to the next learner. Though mentor roles are unquestionable even in the online learning world, it is not the whole thing. You have every right to ask, take part in discussions, give your own inputs and feedbacks, and even educate your mentor, at every little step of the learning process. In this context, we can recall the famous quote of the Indian philosopher and Hindu Monk, Swami Vivekananda, ‘education is the manifestation of knowledge which is already in man’.
Open source edu-apps that are commonly used in e-colleges are making it possible every day. Self-organized learning environments are all in.
Technology is how you use it
Gadgets are lifeless thingamajigs until you use them purposefully. Colleges that offer online degrees lay emphasis on intelligent and extensive use of the gadgets that the students use in their everyday life. Students are allowed to use whatever tech tool they are comfortable or familiar with for learning and sharing knowledge with others. However, new-age gadgets that are commonly used in online learning are not just for pushing content towards the learners; mentors encourage usage of these tools to increase reciprocity. Project-based learning is slowly getting popular across continents.
Therefore, disengaged and geographically and otherwise barricaded learners are breaking through walls to become a part of the global learning community. Online learning would die as a trend if learner participation was not guaranteed. In fact, this is the unique appealing proposition of online learning that have made students flock to the e-colleges for completing their higher studies.
Empowering teachers-the new trend
There was a time when learners were believed to be the consumers and the educators were idealized as the purveyors of knowledge and skills. But now, teachers are taught technology for preparing them for future classrooms. Google Faculty Institute is a nice indicator of this radical change. Google has chosen 19 California State Universities for training them on how to use advanced educational technology. Teachers participating in this program are learning how to use android apps and many more gadgets in classrooms. This will lead to better student engagement, the GFI trainers strongly believe.
On the other hand, students are being engaged as problem finders. Though the concept is century-old, it has been given a new life in the online learning world. Socratic or maieutic teaching method was a reciprocal instructional procedure that required the students to constantly ask their mentor, the epic philosopher, Socrates. Teachers are also gradually realizing he obsoleteness of traditional learning method in this gadget ruled era. Instead, free sharing of knowledge is allowed and facilitated and open space is being created for the students every day.
If you have always questioned yourself why you should pursue higher education, there are plenty of answers for that. But if you have asked yourself how to do that, online learning is the best option, undoubtedly.
Classrooms are fast changing. Do you still believe online degree programs are not for you?