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Changing the Foundations of Learning

The evolution of learning—not just in what we learn but how we learn it—never ceases to amaze, particularly in the year 2020 when so much learning material is at our fingertips that never was before.

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The evolution of learning—not just in what we learn but how we learn it—never ceases to amaze, particularly in the year 2020 when so much learning material is at our fingertips that never was before.

The evolution of learningnot just in what we learn but how we learn itnever ceases to amaze, particularly in the year 2020 when so much learning material is at our fingertips that never was before. 

An ideal example is YouTube, where tutorial videos can teach anyone everything from how a car engine works to how to build a piece of furniture. Social media sites such as YouTube are simply part of learning today, whether we like it or not.

Of course, it can’t just end there. It’s never sufficient to tell someone, “Just go watch it on YouTube” as the preferred method of learning—none of us would trust anyone whose expertise is comprised of simply watching a “how-to” video. Traditional methods still apply, and have simply been enhanced by technology.

If you look at a picture of a classroom from the 1960s and compared it to one from today, much of it will look unchanged—rows of students, a teacher at the front, a writing board with a lesson on it and everyone learning together. Sure, clothing styles have changed, and some schools now issue Chromebooks or other tablet type resources, but for the most part they are used as an alternative to the composition book and trips to the library.

Now, what if this were to change, just as the foundation of learning has changed? What if curriculum was based on online content? There are actually published accounts of a variety of new classroom learning models that merit a serious look. They are known as straddling, swapping in, sequencing and relocating, although whether any of these are the right fit for a particular institution of learning bears some consideration.

Straddling

In this model, the traditional curriculum and online delivery are kept separate. The institution’s brand is leveraged, but the programs are separate. In 2014, for example, Harvard Business School launched the HBX initiative. The goal was to provide a certificate or Credential of Readiness so as not to dilute the actual MBA program.

Swapping In

In this model, classroom content is replaced with online content. San Jose State University used this approach in a partnership with Udacity to deliver MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). While it did help with some real estate constraints, the courses had low pass rates, likely due to the lack of in-person interaction with professors and the benefit of studying in dedicated spaces and at dedicated times.

Sequencing

This is a more future-looking model in which traditional education, online education and work experience occur iteratively. One approach, as suggested by Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, is that an intro year is delivered online, two years on campus and then a final year in a combined online and part-time work situation.

Relocating

This model focuses on flipping the coursework and the homework. As such, time in the classroom is focused on completing what is traditionally homework, and homework time is where students attend online lectures. NYU Stern posts lectures online and uses class time to visit a business to see how it operates rather than just reading a case study or having discussions about the material.

In any of the above examples, a core part of deciding whether to pursue an approach is how it fits into the overall digital strategy and what technology expertise might be required to support it. It is important to engage an Information Technology (IT) department or IT professionals to learn from their experiences. While IT is not going to be responsible for program design, they will play an important role in managing the systems that deliver it.

These are exciting times and represent an opportunity for educational institutions to rethink traditional teaching methods—and to show the next generation there are more comprehensive ways to learn than just looking it up on YouTube.

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