The b(ack)log

Some midnight thoughts on education and technology

I was lying awake last night thinking about the role that technology has to play in education and the question that came up was this - is there anything that technology can truly change in the open online education world that would make things better? I’m not talking about improving on things that is already being done, I’m talking about really making new things possible. Is there maybe a technology that we can imagine that will change things completely?

And the thing is, I can’t think of that one thing or that magic technology. My current view of the educational technology landscape is that there are a lot of different players that believes by putting everything together just right, magic will happen. Kind of like they have several pieces of a powerful old relic, but they just don’t know how to put them together. Maybe there is truth to that, Apple showed something like that with the iPhone and proved that UX is a very important aspect.

But I have a feeling that that is not where we are and if someone manages to shuffle all the parts in such a way that captures everyones attention we will be worse off rather than better off. Image if online education was dominated by 1 or 2 players!

This brings me to two things I want to say, the problems we are facing and the opportunities that we have.

Firstly, the problems. I know I’m not an expert at this, in fact, I’m more likely to be part of the problem. A lot of the focus on online education has been about technology, I mean, it makes sense, you don’t get to do anything online without technology. But education and learning isn’t something that is fundamentally reliant on technology. I feel that a big part of the problem is that there are very few educators involved in online education. And I feel that there are also not enough learners involved in online education. I believe both of this to be changing, but we still have leaps and bounds to progress.

So, the problem is not my expertize, I’m a technologist, but the opportunity is something I know a little bit more about. There have never been a better time for educators and learners to leverage technology to learn in ways that are interesting, affordable, diverse and ultimately about learning. (There is some argument here about preparing people for the market/economy blah, blah - I’m not interested in that argument right now). The technology is there!

It has never been easier for someone to create on the web. Platforms like WordPress enable people to create powerful, feature rich spaces on the web. And with only a little bit of effort the number of ways in which you can create openly on the web for almost no cost multiplies a thousand fold!

It has never been easier for someone to communicate on the web. Projects like WebRTC is ensuring that we don’t stagnate at great platforms like Google Hangouts.

It has never been easier for someone to access the web. It may not be perfect, but the reach of the internet is growing daily as more people realize that access to the internet is equivalent to access to electricity and transport.

It has never been easier for someone to learn, share, participate on the web.

But there is one thing, a word of warning, this cannot be driven by a compony, a goverment, a university or any other one entity. They all have roles to play in this, but ultimately it is us, the normal person, that needs to take hold of this opportunity. That, or online education will change nothing.

ps. Another take of paragraph 2 would be that lots of people are seeing opportunities and are building businesses in the landscape.