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.

EdTech 101 Series : Inversion of selection

Imagine, you have a product or a service to sell. Would you select your customers or your customers would select your product or service? Employers select their employees because employees offer a service and employers are customers. Now, when this selection is outsourced to universities, it creates a situation where as service providers, universities have the power to select students who are in fact their customers.

Education is the only industry today perhaps, which selects its customers. This has implications on the nature of competition and in turn, quality of services offered, operational efficiency and value creation. I believe, educational technology has a potential to invert this and make this industry customer centric again.

Traditionally, universities have had constrained reach due to limited availability of physical resources for matching supply with multi-fold demand. Using technology, MOOC platform providers like edX, Coursera and Udacity have offered universities a solution to enhance their constrained reach and even provide open access to a set of services to anyone, anywhere and anytime.

Especially, a business model, that edX follows, of making courses available for free and provide verified certificates for a fee, with optional on-campus modules that use a selection process, when becomes mainstream, shall help catalyze inversion of selection in education. Free market forces would then apply and would lead to a rapid digital transformation with enhanced customer centricity.

There are challenges that prevent the edX model from being mainstream. Due to which, Coursera and Udacity who started with a similar model have had to partially deviate from it. I have addressed those in a separate post here. What do you think about the inversion of selection in education? Let me know.

EdTech 101 Series : Why don’t you teach that!

In this series, EdTech 101, using the most basic form of educational technology, which is web based text publishing, I hope to highlight some simple ideas about how each and everyone of us can make use of technology to enable open access to quality education.

This first post is about something that you really do well, it may be anything – painting, project management, software designing or story telling to name a few. Someone may have even casually said to you – why don’t you teach that! I believe, each and every one of us should teach something that we like to do or care about. Take a moment to think about what is it that you can share to make someone, you don’t even know, feel positive and thankful.

You may or may not use technology to do this. You can just start offline with your friends or family and then gradually figure out a way to make it available to masses using technology. However, the situation today, with internet and especially social media, is that, how to publish is not a problem any more – all you need is a browser and an internet connection. You can #TeachWithATweet and you can reach @anyone.

Obviously, there’s Wikipedia, but it has struggled to get more and more people to contribute due to the missing social aspect. I have myself tried to convince people to create content online, but then I always found that there’s lack of incentive and motivation. There are some who create content of some form or the other (blog post, tweets, articles, videos and even courses) without looking for an incentive, but it is also fair that many look for one instead. Twitter, Facebook and now even more effectively, LinkedIn Publishing brings that incentive for us to create and publish content.

On such web publishing platforms, you can not only make your experiences, opinions and research, accessible to others, but also strengthen your social presence through improved network interaction, keywords search index and unique content portfolio.

These platforms are increasingly being used in digital learning as well as blended classrooms to improve participation as well as to make use of the fact that we learn the most when we teach.

Here are a few tips for creating content on the web.

  • Just like this post, keep it short and byte-sized.
  • Make it a series, if you want to move deeper or lateral with the topic.

Both of these are well-researched and commonly used techniques in digital learning and also address short attention spans that are observed on social media.

  • Do think about why, before thinking about how to convey your message.
  • Make use of # and @ tags, if you’re creating short content and special tags field for a medium content format like this post.
  • Stay in touch and make it a habit.

That’s about the first post of EdTech 101 Series. How can we encourage more professionals to teach, at-least via web publishing? Let me know.

EdTech 101 Series : Why only bundled pricing works in digital learning today?

On April 9, 2015, LinkedIn announced its purchase of lynda.com for $1.5 billion, a company that generates $100 million+ in revenue and has been profitable since 1997.

Pluralsight, another privately held, subscription-based, online education company is valued at $1 billion+ and has been ranked #42 by Forbes on America’s Most Promising Companies List. In 2013, author Scott Allen became the first of its authors to earn over US$1 million in royalties from his courses.

On the other hand, Coursera and edX that offer access to individual courses for free, but request a fee for verified certificates from rather reputed universities, have found it difficult to sustain this model. edX, being a non-profit, has been able to sustain this model through donations, whereas Coursera, has moved away from its initial promise of open access to content offered, by reserving parts of it only to paid users.

From the customer perspective, it is important to understand, what are the jobs that they want to get done. Learning is obviously a common objective, but apart from that, I would categorize them into two groups.

  • Industry users
  • Academic users

Industry users have a problem to solve and they prefer to have a subscription, to the entire offering, from which they could refer to any section of interest. A learning platform is then used as a reference and user switches back to work, without bothering about course completion.

Instead, academic users want to acquire a credential, which may be a stepping stone for their next career progression. Course completion and verified certificates are important to these users, but only if their industry values these certificates as well.

In digital learning, industry users are generating most of the revenue, either through personal subscriptions or business funding, because there’s no verification bottleneck, that forces a trust deficit like that between academic users and their target industries.

Recently, Coursera has started offering monthly subscriptions to various specializations. LinkedIn Learning is trying to combine subscriptions with credentials. This is just the beginning, but only bundled pricing will work till verification bottleneck is resolved and digital learning becomes mainstream.

What defines quality in education?

Quality education means enabling young minds to think and decide on their own, rather than just following what is being told to them. And yes, this can be taught. It’s more important to teach this than just teaching thoughts. Obviously, we should reuse the work that has been done in the past, but along with that we must teach individuals to analyse it and to think about anything presented to them from different perspectives.

We must teach them to have open mind and courage to accept mistakes and learn from them. Let’s teach how to apply what we learn – in schools – in real life and remove the content that is not relevant anymore. Remembering information is a limited requirement now, whereas learning application is still essential and will always remain so.

Education does not mean passing exams. The way we define an educated person in the current social setting is also a problem. Quality education must lead to open minds, better decisions when subjected to a situation and a better life in turn.

Schools need to be treated as laboratories for life, where one can carry out experiments on how to improve the way we live, then may it be science and technology, arts, learning from history, understanding our surroundings or something else. Teachers must ensure that these experiments are monitored and required expertise is provided to the young participants. Teachers must encourage students to make mistakes, because that’s when they learn to how to learn.