A week from the future of learning

Credits: MIT Bootcamps

This post is also available on LinkedIn here.

During the Chinese New Year week, I was in Brisbane, Australia at the innovation and entrepreneurship bootcamp hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and I was there to experience the future of learning.

This was my opportunity to be a part of the journey that has continued to strengthen open learning starting in 2001 with MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW), then in 2012 with edX and now with MIT Bootcamps since 2014.

The journey of open learning so far

I have been associated with MIT since 2007, when I could first access the internet over a broadband connection. MIT OCW was the place where I’d find educational resources that would help me fill the void in my Bachelor of Engineering degree program. MIT OCW also inspired the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) that started in 2003 and leads the open learning initiative in India today.

MIT OCW does not focus on classroom experience, thus in 2012, MIT and Harvard University launched edX with the first massive open online course (MOOC) on Circuits and Electronics. By the time, I completed this MOOC, I was convinced that it is possible to make open learning mainstream with this digital classroom experience.

edX courses do not offer face to face interactions, so when I received an invitation to apply for a bootcamp by MIT in 2015 after completing the Entrepreneurship 101 MOOC on edX, I was fascinated to see how MIT had once again pushed the limits to offer face to face learning experience around a set of MOOCs at scale and build a network around it.

What bootcamps bring to the table and what they could

Selective, but intense and concise enough to scale

There’s a selection process given the limitation of physical resources similar to a traditional degree program, but their short duration that of a week with intensity of a semester can help bootcamps scale multi-fold.

Diverse and driven network with flipped classroom design

On-campus courses have an advantage over digital learning when it comes to networking opportunities. A network built in-person with smaller groups tends to be stronger than those built online, but I must note that u.lab by MIT has successfully done this online as well. Bootcamps connect diverse and driven participants in an in-person setting. Though the duration of the program is just a week, participants spend almost 18-20 hours together each day on an average. This can further be improved by forming teams around a focus area and adding cross-team collaboration activities.

Meet the MOOC faculty and constant interaction with coaches

While the MOOC faculty conducted experiential learning sessions as well as interactive case studies, the coaches as the domain experts provided specific inputs to each team throughout the program. Interaction with coaches and Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with Bill Aulet were one of the top highlights of the bootcamp for me. More time for such interactions can be designed in the program structure by consciously flipping the classroom.

Short learn and apply cycles

Right feedback just before you would need it was another top highlight of this bootcamp. Bootcamps by design encourage short learn and apply cycles, unlike traditional degree programs as I have highlighted in this post. Solving a problem then becomes the focus, learning serves as a tool to do it better.

The journey has just begun

Local or online bootcamps could provide a part of this experience at a much lower cost and serve as precursors to the global bootcamps. Self-organized bootcamps by the MOOC community may help participants build experience most relevant to their needs. Possibilities are unlimited and the most important takeaway from my bootcamp experience is that even the bootcamps by MIT are not ready and would always have something to improve, but the courage to begin and iterate along the way is why MIT leads us on our journey to the future of learning that is open. Let me summarize this with a quote from Eleanor Carey who was a speaker at the bootcamp.

You will never be ready to do something that you have never done before.

The future of learning is open

This post is also available on LinkedIn here.

Last week, I attended the Future of Learning Conference 2019 organized by Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. It is an annual event to review, provoke and align to evolve a collective vision of what the future of learning needs to be. For me, this was also an opportunity to thank a lot of people especially from NPTEL, edX, IITBombayX, IIMBx and SWAYAM who have been and are at the forefront as India defines a promising future of learning. In this post, I have highlighted my 3 key takeaways and how these align to my personal beliefs.

Why do we have admissions?

This was the first question asked by the keynote speaker, Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor and CEO of edX. Access to quality education is a right, he reiterated.

I think, education is the only industry today perhaps, which selects its customers and this has implications on the nature of competition and in turn, quality of services offered, operational efficiency and value creation. I have discussed how educational technology can help us make this industry customer centric again in a separate post here.

When do we apply what we learn?

Das Narayandas, Senior Associate Dean of Harvard Business Publishing mentioned that education industry has been predominantly using a far transfer model, where students apply what was learnt in a degree program at different stages of their career. He highlighted that it is now possible to deliver a near transfer model where lifelong learners would mostly learn what they need to apply on demand.

I believe, unbundling of degree programs that started with micro-credentials would continue at a rapid pace. As focus shifts to lifelong learning, stacked credentials would help learners have shorter learn and apply cycles. On pricing front though, bundled pricing would continue to dominate, till trust deficit associated with digital learning is tackled, which I have addressed in a separate post here.

How do we create transcripts that support lifelong learning?

Tom Robinson, CEO of AACSB International highlighted that how we manage transcripts would have to change to support lifelong learning. What happens to your corporate learning transcripts when you leave an organization, he asked. He also mentioned that though LinkedIn does have skill records, it is not verified.

I believe that open access to quality education shall make this world a better place to live. I’m grateful that these key highlights from the conference indicate that this is where we all are heading. Access to educational resources opened by the best in the world for last 11 years has made me who am I today and would continue to define me in future. I also had the privilege of being associated with Nanyang Technological University, which opened the doors of professional opportunities for me. Not every learner is privileged and that is why the future of learning is open.

Empowering the mind : an individual’s model

Started servicing the interrupts at will? Are you finding it difficult? Don’t worry, so do we. Do not give up. That’s the key. Now, let’s take a step forward.

This time, as you would have guessed from the diagram above, we have something interesting to discuss. An Individual’s Model. Sounds complex? No, it isn’t.  Simplicity is one of the most important design value, I believe in.

This model represents each and every individual in our society. Yes, this is you. And that’s why, this model is  intuitive, isn’t it? What’s new with this? Let’s try to understand what it has to offer.

The human body can be treated as a ‘black’ box, as we are not concerned about the internal complexities. Based on the senses input to it, human body does some processing and performs some actions as output, which may or may not be visible, under the control of our mind.

The important point to notice is, assuming natural condition, that our body is always completely under control of our mind. Thus, empowering our mind would lead to utmost control over our actions, even on the split-second reactions, irrespective of our desires, if any.

One question may arise, where is our mind actually located? Is it a part of our brain or a completely separate entity? Science and Religion have different explanations. From the scientific viewpoint, mind is constituted by some parts of  our brain. And from observations, that science can’t explain yet, the spiritual viewpoint connects it to the unknown, soul. Where ever may it be located, for an individual, it means the key to complete control over actions.

Our mind evolves continuously with time and the current state of our mind and it’s ability to control is the impression of the past.  Throughout our life, we interact with our family, teachers, friends, relatives and others in the society and they contribute to make us what we are today. Sometimes, we notice it and sometimes we don’t. This interaction defines our early ethics/moral values as well as interests and how we approach life, which most of us stick to, unless one has courage to question and validate them. In the current state of our nation, this interaction is the biggest issue that we need to address. Does it mean that we should give credit/blame them for all our actions and do nothing, even if we feel or if someone points out, that we need improve our mindset and there’s more to it, than what we know? No, absolutely not, but the point take note of is that, it is not that easy to improve one’s mindset in the later stages of one’s life.

As an individual, every one has the ability to think, but definitely our surroundings influence the way we think. We should look forward to have an open mind, which would respect and reuse as well as ignore whatever we receive from our surroundings, based on how we analyze it. An individual should develop the ability to recognize and accept mistakes and more importantly, to correct them. Also, one must instill the ability to listen to other viewpoints carefully, learn from them as well as question them and accordingly modify one’s own viewpoint, if required. We must never let our perception to become static.

Let’s get back to the problem with the interaction amongst an individual and the society, in the early stages of one’s life. Today, considering the state of our education system, this interaction in the early stages of an individual in this world is the root cause of majority of the problems, we face.  Are our teachers or parents in a position to empower our children’s minds? The answer, unfortunately, is no for majority of cases and for variety of reasons. The most important reason being the quality of education, our teachers or parents received. And this is a chain, unless and until, we break this chain, we would never be able to reduce or completely resolve the problems, we face. The quality of education, one receives, from it’s surroundings, defines one’s mindset and as our mind is in full control of our actions, it in turn defines who we are in most of the cases, accepting the current state of our education system.

The surroundings are equally or even more responsible than a particular individual for any criminal  activity that we witness around us like corruption, sexual  assault, killings and etc. Whenever any crime happens, we blame the individual, punish that person and hope that it would not happen again, which I believe is a  completely incorrect approach. The punishment should be there, no doubt about that, but more importantly attention should be paid to improve the surroundings in order to allow our children to learn the ability to think on their own as well as making them aware of the social issues, including the issues involving sex, that we face and encouraging them to allow their perception to  evolve  with time.  We need schools that praise children for learning from the mistakes done in past, rather than scolding them for making mistakes.

Considering the current situation, a large number of children do not go to school, and those who do are not empowered to be autonomous learners, as suggested by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. By presenting this model, we hope that we would understand the importance of empowering our young minds by creating an environment  that would enable quality education as a fundamental right to each and every one in the society. This would reverse the chain effect, mentioned earlier. These children who receive quality education, would reach out to their parents, friends, relatives as well as others and also someday would successfully take up one of these important roles. If we perfect the causes, the effect take care of itself and in fact, will multiply automatically.

Every single mind, when empowered, with the ability to control actions, in the societal setting, irrespective of the senses, would lead towards the ideal society where love prevails and crime does not exist. While focusing on improving the quality of education, we must pay attention to the fact that, it is difficult to reach, each and every mind, instantly, thus the law and order needs to be given equal importance, which is a short term solution, as opposed to quality education, which is a long term and permanent solution.

We shall continue to use this model as we move forward towards empowering our minds. Stay tuned.

Empowering the mind : interrupts

What were you doing before clicking the link to this post?
You can service this interruption later as well.
If you were doing something ‘ important ‘, switch back to that activity. Do not forget to mark it to be pending (assuming that since you clicked this link, you are interested in reading it).

We are naturally very susceptible to interrupts; events that cause diversion from the activity in focus. Does that mean that we have to accept it and live this way throughout our lives? Not  necessarily, but of course many of us would do. Not because that it’s something we really want to do, but due to the fact that we choose to serve our senses, we decide to act to each and every impulse immediately.

Now, does that mean interrupts are something to be ignored? Absolutely not, but serving them without any filtering or prioritizing is the main cause of inefficiency.

Okay, assume, that at this moment highest priority task of your life is to count.. 1,2,3… till 20.
Facebook these days has become a major cause of distraction to many of us, though it is a very important medium of social communication, it reduces efficiency, if it’s use is not filtered or prioritized appropriately.

Did you complete counting or even started counting before you read the next sentence?
It is most likely, that the word ‘Facebook’ might have caught your attention, which you can say is an interrupt of a kind in this context, but in spite of that your priority was to complete counting till 20 first, before moving ahead. Though this is a very irritating example and you might have continued counting in your mind while moved ahead, the point to consider is generally, whenever an interrupt occurs, we serve it, forgetting all our priorities, even after judging that this interrupt is not so important and can be served once we finish the task at hand.

Suppose, somehow, as everyone might adopt different ways of doing it, if we achieve to serve interrupts at will, it would definitely be the first step towards empowering our minds. There are other aspects as well, which need to be considered next.

Till then, do practice serving interrupts at will. Do share the ways you adopted.
Stay tuned for more on this topic.

That’s what we need!

Small corrective steps.  That’s what we need!
Strong primary education.  That’s what we need!
A ray of hope. That’s what we need!
Ideas and courage to implement them. That’s what we need!
A bond for unity. That’s what we need!
A circle of trust. That’s what we need!
A vision and a mission. That’s what we need!
Higher level of understanding. That’s what we need!
Tears of belonging. That’s what we need!
Desperation for change. That’s what we need!
The might to defend. That’s what we need!
A sense of responsibility. That’s what we need!
The positive attitude. That’s what we need!
The spark within. That’s what we have!

पण मी काहीच करु शकत नाहीये!

माझं घर उध्वस्त होतयं,
माझी माणसं मारली जातायत
पण मी काहीच करु शकत नाहीये!

टीव्हीवाले सगळ्याचाच बाजार मांडतायत,
लोक आतंकवाद्यांना बघायला जातायत
पण मी काहीच करु शकत नाहीये!

नेते इथे फक्त मिरवायला येतायत,
अजूनही मतांच्या पेट्याच भरल्या जातायत
पण मी काहीच करु शकत नाहीये!

मुलं दहशतीचे खेळ खेळतायत,
त्यांच बालपण मात्र विसरतायत
पण मी काहीच करु शकत नाहीये!

लोक सगळं किती पटकन विसरतायत,
आतंकवाद्यांना मारल्यावर जल्लोष करतायत
पण मी काहीच करु शकत नाहीये!

डोळ्यांत अश्रु उभे राहतयत,
मनात राग कोंडला जातोय
पण मी काहीच करु शकत नाहीये!

मनात कुठेतरी नवी उमेद जन्माला येतेय
हे सगळं बदलायचं अशी जिद्द निर्माण होतेय!

I hope.

For a NATION, to be PROUD of.
For the WORLD, that ensures PEACE.
For the PEOPLE, who LOVE WITHOUT BARRIERS of race, religion and caste.
For a SOCIETY, that nurtures EQUALITY.
For a CULTURE, that evolves with TIME.

For a MIND, that’s OPEN to new ideas.
For a HEART, that beats to say, ‘I’m ALIVE’.
For a FACE, with a beautiful SMILE.

For an IDEA, that gets REALIZED.
For a DREAM, that leads to ACTION.
For a DECISION, driven by a VISION.
For a MISTAKE, that leads to LEARNING.



Empowering the mind : the role of religions

Religions are a kind of research work. Research on mind and life. There are a lot of things to learn from one’s own religion and an individual may choose to contribute to improve it. The stories you were told, which guided you how to live life, is to me your religion by default.

Now, to say that all our stories are better, is not correct on anyone’s front. The problems occur when these stories are used to create a negative atmosphere. The problem with the Muslim world today is the excessive distortion of such stories. And the same problem exists with other religious entities as well, but to a smaller extent. The point to understand is everyone needs to contribute to improve these stories we tell and rules we follow.  We should not do or spread something, just because a ‘so called’ representative of our religious ideology said so. We must analyze it and then decide to act accordingly.

The stories we tell our children are extremely important,  we must always continue to improve them by doing more research. Throw away the content that is irrelevant or was proved to be wrong. For example, just because many things said by Vivekananda are useful to live a better life, don’t assume that everything said by him has to be perfect. No one is perfect or can be perfect. Even Vivekananda was no exception. We must understand that, making mistakes is natural in the process of learning.

On a religious front, we must try to improve the existing stories or practices or even find out some better stories from other religions, if required, as well. We may even choose to write something new on our own to be told to our children, but let’s not forget to reuse what we already have. Improving a system from within is better than creating a parallel system.

Empowering the mind : the God, the unknown and the universe

There’s no doubt that there are more unknown things in this world than what we know by means of Science. The theories that arrived to explain these things led to religions and faith in God as a superpower controlling this universe, because we tend to relate to someone like us easily.

So our saints, let’s call them, researchers in terms of the modern world, decided to put across to people, the experiences that they had or ideas they thought, through the stories, the most effective medium of conveying ideas till date. There were scientific experiments carried out to know more continuously, but the unknown part was so much more as it is even today, that they understood that this not how it’s going to work out, we need some assumptions, to structure the unknown, in turn the universe, in more familiar words, God, in order to achieve a balance in the society, by guiding people on how to live.

A lot of research was done by these saints on human mind, which led to a unanimous conclusion that expectation is the main cause of all the pain. When one starts working on what one believes in after defining the effect, that what needs to be achieved, and by identifying the causes, that would produce this effect, then one just needs to keep working on these causes and stop expecting the effect, as it will come automatically.

But this does not mean that don’t ever seek change or define the effect itself. If we start to think that whatever happens around is act of God, then everything will start appearing fine to us, there would be no motivation. It’s us and the one’s around us who make up the God, the unknown, the universe. So the only way to unify with the God is to make sure that our actions do maintain the balance of this universe and we always seek betterment by defining effects/goals that will ensure balance. The means of interpreting or the stories to convey this message can be different, but at the end the God or the unknown is within.

Where the mind is full of fear

Where the mind is full of fear and the head’s never held high
Where knowledge is not free
Where the world has been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the worst of the lies
Where tired lazy even fails to stretch its arms
Where the clear stream of reason fails to find its way
Out of the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is misled by pseudo-thee
Into ever-widening divide
From that hell of a prison, my Child, set my country free.

This is with highest respect to Rabindranath Tagore’s vision for India, but the reality today is completely opposite. And our motherland is asking her children to set her free from this prison.

It’s high time, that we paid attention to her tears.
Let’s rise beyond the ordinary to realize Rabindranath Tagore’s vision for India.