Digital Legacies: Education

Julius Wiedemann notes the ongoing revolution in the field of education where open-source information is readily accessible, giving rise to more questions than answers.

by Julius Wiedemann Published on : Sep 15, 2020

My claim is that the revolution of learning is preceding the revolution in education, insofar people are changing first, and the educational establishment is shifting beneath their feet. We will shift from generations that work hard to answer questions to new generations that will learn to formulate questions. Learning is more often than not a counter intuitive process. The new generation will also see a shift in the dynamics of how knowledge is distributed. We should now proclaim the end of times for systems that use top-down didactic approaches. The future lies on building systems that will harness self-motivation as a key asset to make intellectual progress.

Whilst older systems were predicated on the idea that someone had to teach and the other side had to learn, and that tests would be given so that people can advance to have better chances of succeeding, it strikes me improbable that this system will be able to endure much longer with the variety and accessibility of educational content for free in this new digital era, if we are to privilege innovation. Experimentation will be a must, and a multiplicity of opportunities will arise.

The early Illinois Distributed Museum focused on innovation that occurred at the University of Illinois | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
The early Illinois Distributed Museum focused on innovation that occurred at the University of Illinois Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Edutainment has become the word of use, and a new perspective on methodology. The number of video gamers in the world is estimated at about 2.5 billion people. Gamification of education is still an incipient area of academic studies, and we are still to see its effects. But companies are not waiting. Ikea has a 3D kitchen planner, Sketchup is used by teenagers, and little kids start early on their iPads. In a Pew survey of June 2020 on trends for 2030 Matt Moore, innovation manager for Disruptor’s Handbook, Sydney, Australia, wrote: “I see most opportunity for improvement in domains that are not dependent on ‘improving’ human behaviour… I see a bleak future for news media and a bright future for education. A big change of the next 10 years is that the internet will finally disappear into the world of technological (and physical) infrastructure. There will be content, data, applications, actions. But we won’t see the internet.” The trade-offs are still to be seen for so much access, as Tracey Follows, futurist and founder of Futuremade, wrote in the same report, “it will be the wealthiest in society who are able to pay for tools and technologies to protect their privacy whilst the poorer have to exchange their data and sacrifice their privacy in return for access to information and education.” Many other specialists point out to a generation much more aware of their digital rights.

PLATO originated in the 1960s as a distributed computer-based learning system at the University of Illinois | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
PLATO originated in the 1960s as a distributed computer-based learning system at the University of Illinois Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Talent exists everywhere. It is only a question of harnessing it. Given the opportunities, different sets of skills will emerge from our mysterious combination of nature and nurture. And given the right tools, talented and skilled professionals will emerge from a combination of guarantees and stimulation. Portals like domestika.org are already becoming global enterprises in creative fields, offering skill-building courses. Platforms such as Edx and Coursera, and LinkedIn, have been working hard to offer alternative channels for learning. Costs ought to be reduced too, with individual courses costing just a few dollars, free access, subscriptions, and mixed models.

PLATO’s thriving online community predated today’s social media by decades | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
PLATO’s thriving online community preceded today’s social media by decades Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Learning digitally will encompass a series of resources and strategies, including badging and gamification, virtual reality, augmented reality, mobile learning e.g. Mobile Phones, Laptops, Computers and iPads, but it will also be able to democratise a more personalised learning, tailored to people’s specific cognitive abilities. The first “automatic teacher” was developed in 1924 by Ohio State University professor Sidney Pressey, which was a monumental flop. It took another 30 years until Harvard professor BF Skinner in 1954 developed the first teaching machine for use in schools.

The Qatar National Library designed by Rem Koolhas | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
The Qatar National Library designed by Rem Koolhas Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Where does design and architecture come into play? Architects have created great buildings for universities, classrooms, which through their design, conveyed an atmosphere of learning. The space was the medium. Let alone libraries, which have symbolized the democratized access to knowledge. It is all bound to change, with COVID19 accelerating the digitization process. This August, the government of Qatar has invited authorities and intellectuals to discuss the future of public libraries in a post-COVID19 scenario, where people go out less, and agglomerations are to be avoided. Hamad al Kawari, Minister of State, and President of the Qatar National Library, stated that “the situation has expedited the need for all organizations to enhance their online offerings, and has offered libraries across the world a unique opportunity to transform service delivery, modernize librarianship, future proof services and create a bank of expertly curated online resources with a global reach.” The building in Doha, a piece by Dutch architect Rem Koohaas, has been one of the main attractions of the city since its inauguration. Architects and designers will have to reimagine the home space as one also for learning, in a broader sense. We have by now fully incorporated digital tools to acquire knowledge. But we will have to do more than that, because every space for the exchange of ideas is being transformed. Its future will be on every home, every mobile phone, and every public space. It’s the revolution needed to allow the revolution of learning.

Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.

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