Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
Professor Sugata Mitra didn't invent student-driven learning. But he is championing field research and a compelling case that there has never been a time in history when the SOLE (self-organized learning environment) model is so vital to children's learning. Self-organized learning complements traditional education systems. In fact, self-guided learning is already gaining traction in pockets around the world, including in Armenia where teenagers are leading their own structured learning projects and field studies thanks to Internet-connected after-school programs, and a slightly younger generation of mentors playing the role of Professor Mitra's "granny network." The program in Armenia and other places around the world prioritizes curiosity and skills acquisition, not assessment.
I deeply admire Dr. Sugata's work, his structured approach to SOLE, and his willingness to turn research into results with the support of TED. We have enough academic dissertations about the future of learning when action is what is most needed. Hopefully now child-driven, self-guided learning will gain serious attention from the general public and resources to begin the learning system revolution in earnest -- one that will prepare a new generation of minds to collaborate, problem-solve and succeed in the fast moving New Machine age.
China's leader Chairman Mao once said "a single spark can combust into a mighty flame (星星之火，可以燎原)." Sugata's talk lit a flame at TED '13, perhaps creating a wild fire that leads to the reinvention of the world's education system. With the right attention from government policy makers, business leaders, and most importantly, parents, the dawn of student-driven learning may be upon us.
You see, the flaw in our education system is not only limited to learning among children, but in fact, extends to across age groups, from young professionals to retirees. The fundamental questions we must ask ourselves are these: When is the student a better teacher, and the teacher a better student? What is important to learn and why? How do we learn and who should take responsibility for setting up these systems?
For example, we assume adults should educate children, but perhaps it's time to give children some authority, and even official recognition to teach adults, particularly in areas of the Internet, science, arts and other subjects.
And retirees could be brought into a new kind of education system to mentor children to teach themselves, modeling optimism, endurance, and patience. From a technology standpoint, I see a future where new learning formats leverage gaming and cloud-based competition to help children create their own experiential learning journeys, connected to their peers around the world.
Professor Mitra's SOLE model is not the ultimate solution to our children's learning needs, but it sets a clear direction for us to rethink our education system and redefine the concept of education itself. n Chinese, education is 教育 which directly translated means "Teach and Foster"; however, learning is 学习 which directly translated is "learn and repeat practicing." I appreciate the ancient wisdom here.
Our school systems have been focused on teaching knowledge and skills, but not on fostering important behavioral qualities that allow learning such as attitude, mindset, receptivity to new ideas and persistence. Who should be responsible for this part of education? Ideally this should be the parent's responsibility. The question is: Who is giving parents that knowledge?
The SOLE model might not be the best way to equip our children with mindset qualities that allow "repeat practicing" which requires patience and focus. This is particularly important today with kids' attention spans becoming shorter (due to a variety of factors in our modern, highly stimulated society).
If we see a learned person as the result of our education system, children become the "customer" and teachers become the "providers" of this business we call education. Logically, the process is then structured to maximize the ability of the customer to acquire new skills, which naturally would then embrace self-organized learning concepts. We need tomorrow's education system to become an ecosystem where the role of student and teacher is continually redefined depending on the situation and learning need. This too is a mindset change. Are we ready?
With the 2013 TED Prize going toward igniting a student-directed learning movement, I believe impact extends from existing school systems, especially in poor regions where access to high-quality learning is in short supply, to online learning environments where the cloud is the classroom. We should consider SOLE an addition to existing education, at least in the short term, as we reinvent the best learning experiences and observe results.
For SOLE to work, an unprecedented level of collaboration is required from educational content publishers, technology companies, teachers, parents, governments, and business. We need to ready ourselves for the baton to be passed from Professor Mitra to leaders in learning everywhere who have the influence and experience to architect education for the New Machine age. The question is who will lead this revolution? Perhaps our children will!
TED and The Huffington Post invite you to take the SOLE Challenge, a unique contest in which we're asking teachers and parents to create child-centered learning labs in their homes and schools. Write an 800 to 1,000 word blog post on your experiences and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Three winning submissions will get to attend TED Youth 2013.
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