How people are using e-learning and crowdlearning to change education

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Author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has said that “big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.” Then it would be no surprise pointing out the exciting ventures trying out to improve the struggle we have with education. Though the implementation and execution have always been under scrutiny, some have come up with interesting experimental solutions.

Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy has recently published a book, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, in which he is re-imagining and rethinking the current education system. He notes that society’s current idea of education is of “state-mandated calendars” for example, and is a primitive afterthought of 18th century Prussia’s education mentality. He argues that this method of implementing education should be re-imagined and that students together with the teachers should be liberated.

This discussion has prompted experimentations and new ventures across the globe. The whole concept of learner-teacher experience is being put under the microscope which leads to more open-ended concepts such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which share some of the same characteristics as crowdsourcing. Many of the courses are managed in short video segments, quizzes and other activities as well as online forums for discussions.

The MOOCs systems are being used in many of these organizations to make up for the exceptionally large audiences involved. As the term suggests, the course allows a massive online community that is also ‘open’ to engage with its content and each other. Meaning that not only are people who engage with these courses free to ask and answer each other’s questions, but in some instances they are encouraged to grade the work of their peers as well. A controversial idea at that, but one that makes sense seeing that one of Coursera’s humanities courses, A History of the World Since 1300, had more than 70 000 students signed up which meant that 70 000 essay assignments needed grading.

This wiki-based collaboration includes features such as self-paced learning, online discussion groups and progress assessments. By allowing peer-to-peer learning, student interactions are placed under checks and balances to sway the crowds in the right direction when they seem to move off course. Coursera uses this method of ‘fact-checking’ by sending messages containing the correct explanations to both the persons who asked the questions and to those who gave the incorrect answers.

Learning with the crowd

By creating these networks and with the encouragement of open learning environments, people have access to legitimate education, peer-to-peer cooperation, relative and constructive feedback and, very importantly, relative convenience. Coursera presents us with quality courses worldwide from more than 30 universities from Stanford and Princeton University to Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Students will be able to use Coursera to potentially earn extra university credit. Khan Academy allows us to use quality videos in the classroom or at your desk. A similar venture using the MOOC model is edX which is a joint venture between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Udacity is an educational organization which has spawned out of Stanford University’s free online computer training classes. It now has more than 100 000 active students with a range of 14 different course subjects.

By taking the idea of ‘crowd-learning’ further, Learnist, which has been born out of the popular social test preparation website, Grockit, has used the collaboration of teachers and experts to contribute to a massive variety of topics using online media. At face value Learnist looks similar to Pinterest but introduces us to ‘relevant’ and legitimate learning content and offers assessments to test yourself on certain topics of interest. Think of it as a Wikipedia blended with Pinterest and Storify with more stimulating and constructive subjects.

The general direction of e-learning seems to be leaning further away from the traditional, seemingly authoritarian teacher-student approach, to a more open-ended, collaborative and cooperation-based system. It is interesting seeing the potential of this collaborative education system and how technology is implemented to assist, authenticate and ultimately guide students. The future of how these concepts could be implemented in classrooms does seem exciting and the experimental and ambitious use of social media and the flirting with the ‘crowdlearning’ concept does even more so.

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