The way we shop (eg. Amazon), the way patients are treated (robotic surgery), the way we bank (UPI), or the way we travel (Uber, Ola) have all changed phenomenally over the last couple of decades. Each of these areas has been disrupted, thanks to technology. Technology companies have transformed into retail stores and banks rather than just traditional companies.
While this is the case with most areas, let us take a look at the education system. It may not be unfair to say that the system has not changed much over 1000s of years. Education continues to be traditional in most sense of the terms. There are 30-60 students in the classroom. Different faculty members come and deliver classes/lectures. The class is assumed to be learning at the same speed and they move in cohorts. However, the fact is, each student learns differently and at different speeds. It takes a phenomenal teacher (always in short supply) and small cohort size (major challenge to scale) to give any personal attention to the needs of every student.
However, we see some real impact of technology in the youth today. I was talking to a friend’s son recently. He is a very bright student and was a school topper in a very popular school in Chennai. He won various All India Science Competition awards. And only a few months back, he had surprised everyone, including his family and school management by joining a business degree (shunning both engineering and science) program. And recently, he decided to drop out of college, barely 6 months into the 3-year program.
While talking to him, at the request of his father to see what is happening, it was clear that his aspirations (and abilities) were far higher than what the education system could feed him with. He decided to learn online with the top universities while pursuing his startup aspiration. I felt he had a clear vision of the career he wanted to pursue. And the ideas he had, with regard to learning different streams (his list: design thinking, artificial intelligence, supply chain management, business finance, virtual reality) to come with a startup idea really stumped me. The best part was, he also knew what program he would do on which platform and why he is choosing the same.
At the same time, I end up meeting many other students (and their parents), who are lagging behind. Unable to cope with the curriculum in school and taking personal tuitions and struggling to make the grades.
Both happening at the same time in spite of having access to a similar type of schools, curriculum, teachers, study load etc. Technology has helped one to pursue the dreams and has not been of help for the other.
This made me wonder about how technology has changed the education system over the years. We are currently in the fourth wave. The flip class wave, eLearning wave, the MOOCs wave and the Intelligent System wave. I believe that the impact of each of them in the evolution is significant, though these have so far had only a negligible change in the complete education ecosystem. Let us look at each of them.
The flip class wave
Focused on transforming traditional lectures to self-study and home-work (applying the learning) to the classroom. However, it was found that motivating students to learn on their own, in their own time with available resources was not an easy task.
The eLearning wave
Tried to make self-learning more interesting. A lot of audio-visual came into play and so were interactive videos. This format enabled motivated students to learn more effectively and the gamification and edutainment quotient made it fun to learn. Again, the beneficiaries were the motivated and talented students.
Then came the MOOCs wave
The eLearning moved to video, at a really huge scale. Technically, one can learn today from the top most institutions across the globe at a fraction or no cost. This was touted to be the game-changer. However, here again, the beneficiaries were self-motivated talented students. Though millions of students joined the platform, the program completion rate continued to be generally in the low double-digit numbers.
Building on all the 3 waves, the intelligent platforms are now evolving to be the next big thing in education. The key focus of these platforms are:
a. Goal-based learning path
Enables one to start with the end in mind. This is very effectively used by today’s youth specifically for their dream education and jobs. Be it preparation of GMAT, GRE, CAT or Bank, Government Exams, one is able to fix a goal and work towards it. Much like a sports person working on achieving a goal (say 100m in less than 10 seconds) one is able to create a goal for self and work towards achieving it with the help of the platform.
b. Extreme personalization
One of the biggest issues of the education system is mass customization and painting all the students in a cohort with the same brush. Today’s Intelligent platforms have enabled extreme personalization. Each student gets a study plan which suits him/her, completely based on one’s readiness vis-a-vis the goals. With the power of AI improving every day, this is becoming a reality and the results are there to see.
c. Dynamic Planning
Keeping in mind the dynamic environment, intelligent platforms are able to adapt to these changes and help with dynamic planning to cater to the changing needs. Hence, half the process of a typical PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is taken over by the platform with Planning and Checking being automated. A student has to only Do what he has set out to do and Act on the updates based on current preparedness.
d. AI-powered Insights
With the power of AI and huge amounts of data, the trends in the market both in terms of what is hot and what is not and in terms of career opportunities and learning skills are getting better by the day. AI has the potential to map and predict demand and supply across various career opportunities and skills. Intelligent platforms are not too far off in exploiting these strengths of AI and bringing exciting careers to pursue for the youth.
A word of caution though. These 4 waves showed that while technology was able to help motivated good students, getting it widely accepted by those who need a well-defined structure and continuous support to stay engaged were left out, which is the majority of the students and youth. A combination of technology effectively used in a structured environment (like school or college) is waiting to be exploited.