Changing educational delivery
As times evolve, methods of teaching must become technologically and intellectually stimulating
Education technology and its delivery are undergoing a revolutionary change today. In the digital age, chalk and talk is history. On one hand, with the depleting attention span of learners, a new learning pedagogy is needed. And on the other, integrating digital tools into education, from school to University, is a must. But which are these tools, what are their strengths, weaknesses and how do we integrate the same?
Brick and mortar
This has been the usual learning in classrooms taught by teachers who speak the last word on the subject, coupled with learning in the library from hard copy books and evaluation through written examinations. And, this one line has formed the core of brick and mortar education for decades now. Not that it is obsolete, but much has changed and shall change.
Brick and mortar still is the core of education delivery. We need teachers as role models with a human touch, for clarifications and inspiration. A good teacher motivates a learner to embrace even tough subjects. I still remember the way our school Chemistry teacher introduced "the mysteries of Chemistry" to us, or how our Mathematics teacher teased our brains with quizzes making complex formulae learning easy through a step by step logical process, almost like a rational story.
Also, brick and mortar gives us peers, brings in a sense of collaboration and teamwork while making us more social.
Click and portal
The West first introduced the concept of online learning. Entire courses came to be presented online through the blend of texts, PDFs, audio (podcasts) and video, and finally converged to make the learning experience diverse and pleasing to internalise. Indeed, it was a step forward and there emerged an entire range of edu-tech companies catering to this new learning.
A new range of e-learning tools and resources, e-tutors, self-learning through Khan Academy videos for school education and Coursera videos for higher education have now emerged. They sometimes aid mainstream learning, and, at times, these online resources become mainstream learning itself.
However, such an approach, when taken to its logical conclusion and in its entirety, makes education mechanical, bereft of role models, inspiration, peer group and teamwork. Many critics have noted that such an approach produces robotic minds. Oriental criticisms may be unkind, but not bereft of some truth. The good old campus life, peer-network, teacher as a guru etc. do have their own place under the sun.
The ancient Gurukul System of our civilisation has eulogised learning with a Guru as an inspiring role model and learners living together in ashramas or Gurukuls learning collectively and imbibing a spirit of fraternal competition. Even in the post-industrial world, many with basic education went directly into the factory system, into workshops and offices and picked up skills on-the-job, learning by doing.
While experiential learning makes a strong case of hands-on ready-to-use skills being imparted only through this pedagogy, the major limitation of this is – while it answers to the 'How' questions of skills, it does not delve into the 'Why' questions of any issue. It renders itself limited to a repetitive process of learning by default rather than by design. It is empirical learning, more by observation and repeated attempts, rather than by any normative and summative components. In true education, we need to learn how to do any work, along with the clear answers of why to do that, when to do (and not to do) and what is the continuity or history of that skill/knowledge, etc. All of these cannot be easily learnt only through on the job experiential training – we also need a formal and structured learning architecture.
Experiential Brick and Portal Learning
As we proceed into a knowledge economy, and also a society which needs to interact and mutually empower one another, education is increasingly moving towards the right futuristic model in its delivery: Experiential Brick & Portal Learning (EBPL).
For education to be diverse in scope, humane in approach, technical in skills, and internalised in its impact, it must combine the best elements without mutual conflict.
While classrooms bring in teachers and peers, the approach should move from 'teacher being the ultimate interpreter of knowledge' to 'teacher replaced by a compassionate mentor, not speaking the last word in the subject but being the first stimulus for the learner'. The learner has to follow up with self-learning and passion to pursue knowledge, skills and applications in the domain of higher education.
Since no teacher/mentor can ever know everything about any subject, a classroom is only the first stimulus and how a subject is introduced is the source of inculcating interest. Internet or the cyber media must be adopted, Kindle has to be a source of reading, online searches must complement the offline library and tools of networking must be adopted. But these are aids to learning, these cannot replace teachers and peers, instead, they can complement their effort.
We need to enumerate various educational pedagogy and approaches, and then move to learning in details, with cases and tasks to apply, the concept of blending or synergising between the classroom/library brick and mortar education with internet/cyber-based click and portal learning and experiential learning by doing. This EBPL approach is all the more significant in creative domains like media, communication, design et al.
Today's creative education exhibits in great details how we can move from a teacher/syllabus-centric education to a learner/learning-centric education: from school to University, and how teachers have to be facilitators at the minimum and mentors at the best.
A leading management college has started using WhatsApp as a tool to enhance attendance. It makes two-minute videos with a touch of humour and creativity on the major themes of the next day in session and sends it a night or two before to enhance the interest of the learners.
Flip classroom methodology has been started by several management and engineering institutes where power-point presentations on the subject of discussion are given along with online and offline reading resources. The class begins with a quiz to assess the level of information and understanding of the learners on the subject, then moves into clarifications and case-studies.
Using a relevant Coursera online course along with an offline workshop or classroom teaching of similar topics is another new practice often seen in media, management, communication courses.
After discussing development and organisations in the classroom, reading cases and documented examples, a few management and communication institutes have started sending learners to study development organisations and apply management principles and communication skills to contribute value to them for a period of four to 10 weeks, calling it Corporate Citizenship or Development Internship project. Participant observation studies are made components of learning in which a learner stays in a community, observes its dynamics, does research and also adds value in terms of processing and documentation.
Many universities have institutionalised a continuous mixed evaluation process of integrating project work with online research and offline written examinations to holistically evaluate the learning outcomes of their students.
This is in sharp contrast to one-time year-end or twice a year written exams which determine the grades of learners for all their lives.
An imaginative way of engaged, empowered learning and multi-pronged evaluation to test all of these: comprehension, retention, imagination, and application, can be the only way ahead in ensuring learning by doing, in a classroom and through the internet.
Finnish innovation labs
Finland's education system is considered to be the finest in the world. In the Finnish Innovation Labs in education, especially at higher education levels, there is no formal teaching, but a collective learning by doing where a theme is introduced, ground rules are set, the learners in groups explore through self-study, cases, survey or research on ground, and come together to share their results at every level, discarding those that do not stand strong.
The entire edifice of the Finnish education system is based on one core belief—learning by doing — that inherently values trust and responsibility. Further, the same belief — effective learning can happen when it is self-directed and self-regulated — has been firmly imprinted in the mind. For example, Finland's OAMK Labs function on the fundamental premise that "Students learn best when they are given the needed freedom to experiment and fail." 'Learning' rather than 'numerical outcome 'should become the key component to keep education in tune with the Self-determination Theory—one that propounds that pupils perform better when they are motivated by intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Hence, there are no marks, only grades; and rewards are more in the form of the joy of discovery, bonding, and field-work.
Ujjwal K Chowdhury