The Web: The Future of Learning

From the Deloitte website:

According to a report launched today by Deloitte, the business advisory firm, by 2010 more people around the world will use a growing number of technology products and services more often, in more locations, and for more purposes than ever before.

Although the report says the teacher of 2010 won't be replaced by technology, it also states,

The best teachers may have become global 'brands by 2010, thanks to advances in connectivity. This elite group may be lecturing to a collective class of thousands, using a combination video, conferencing, streamed audio and podcasts as well as the traditional lecture theater.

The elite are already online:

"Stanford University is making hundreds of Stanford podcasts available free to anyone through Apple Computer's popular iTunes Music Store. The podcasts include lectures by the university's professors." (Chronicle of Higher Education, cited at "Present")

Harvard professors, too, are podcasting via iTunes (Lulu Zhou, "Harvard Offers Course via iPod", The Harvard Crimson)

And forget the thousands. It's millions. Ken Carroll, at his ChinesePod.com site, "plans to deliver language learning to millions through podcasts, cutting out teachers and classrooms (Glyn Moody, "Now you're speaking my language", Guardian). Like Stanford and Harvard, ChinesePod—along with JapanesePod101, TOEFL Podcast, ESL Pod, and many others—are available free via iTunes.

One potentially good thing about online resources for learning languages is that they are scalable: There's no need to progress according to an entire class, semester by semester, year by year. Instead, one can progress at one's own pace, as fast or as slow as one has time to expend on learning. And it's not clear that teachers and classrooms will be bypassed, but rather, their form and activity will change. Teachers might become more like coaches: supporting, advising, and fine-tuning students' language learning.

Another advantage is that huge pools of resources can mean a huge variety of topics that appeal to all students' interests, facilitating their persisting in language learning.

Perhaps the best advantage is the social interaction. From the article on ChinesePod:

There is also a formal Chinesepod blog, and a wiki, where users are invited to contribute entries related to Chinese and China. Every part of the site encourages users to join the conversation. "We obsess to feedback: what are the users saying, what do they want, what are their problems," Carroll says.

All this feedback is pored over by the 30-strong production team, who use it as the basis for future daily podcasts. After the scripts are written, and the premium exercises generated, Carroll and his co-presenter, Jenny Zhu, record all the podcasts for the week, each in a single take. "We even leave in mistakes because it's more natural, it sounds warmer," he says.

The next stage of Chinesepod aims to put the user more firmly in control thanks to another Web 2.0 idea: content tags. "Say you were going to visit China in six months on business," Carroll says. "You could come in, test, find your level, and say: I'd like business-oriented lessons for an elementary [user]." Creating a customised curriculum will be possible thanks to the modular form of Chinesepod, which consists of self-contained podcasts, each dealing with one topic and lasting about 12 minutes.

This sort of interaction can fully involve learners and provide quick feedback promotes interest, commitment, and thus learning. Moreover, this is a good example of a process technique of education. In "Coping with complexity: educating for capability" (British Medical Journal), Sarah Fraser and Trisha Greenhalgh, two professors of health care, apply complexity theory concepts to educating for capability (a concept similar to autonomy) as opposed to educating for competence. They define the two terms as:

Capability is more than competence

Competence—what individuals know or are able to do in terms of knowledge, skills, attitude

Capability—extent to which individuals can adapt to change, generate new knowledge, and continue to improve their performance

Summary points for their article are:

  • Traditional education and training largely focuses on enhancing competence (knowledge, skills, and attitudes)
  • In today's complex world, we must educate not merely for competence, but for capability (the ability to adapt to change, generate new knowledge, and continuously improve performance)
  • Capability is enhanced through feedback on performance, the challenge of unfamiliar contexts, and the use of non-linear methods such as story telling and small group, problem based learning
  • Education for capability must focus on process (supporting learners to construct their own learning goals, receive feedback, reflect, and consolidate) and avoid goals with rigid and prescriptive content

Note especially the authors' last point that supports ChinesePod's approach on having blogs, wikis, and tags with which learners construct their own learning and receive feedback in a process that focuses on and promotes the emergence of learning.

This is only the beginning, and I can't imagine the end.