“Education is a self organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.”
So what are we to make of this? (Take the 17 minutes to watch the video…you won’t be disappointed.)
I want to chime in here, obviously, but I am really interested at what questions, comments, etc. this provokes from educators. On one level, it’s inspiring to think that technology can change the educational playing field in this way. On another, it’s a huge challenge to the structure and systems we have in place. Seriously, what do you make of this?
It’s no secret that I lean toward seeing a future where self-organized learning rules, and that the role of school is to develop the passion, motivation and skills necessary to help kids become amazing learners as opposed to pretty good “knowers.” I love Mitra’s inspired vision of that future as it’s now made possible through access to Web. But if we value that, and if we want that for our kids, it means we’re going to have to start teaching ourselves out of our jobs (at least as they are currently defined.)
Not everyone is feeling it yet, but we’re entering a real big, huge hairy transition period for schools. I’m honestly not sure what comes out the other side of it.
Seriously, what swims in your head after watching this?
Rachelle Gura says
I am not at all surprised about the outcomes. Kids love a challenge, love to be social, and love computers. But who gives them the challenges and follows up with another challenge at the right level for them? You still need someone to do this. And in western countries (as opposed to the streets of India) you need someone to make sure the kids are safe.
For at least these 2 reasons, I don’t think teachers are obsolete. I do think we need to give kids lots of time, let them be noisy, and give them latitude to figure things out their way — all evidenced by this talk. Really wonderful!
Laurie Fowler says
I found this talk fascinating. I thought the idea of a “hole in the wall” computer was a great idea. It was also wonderful to see that in some parts of the world–even the world that some of us forget exists–children can learn without standardized tests and they still like to do it and share what they know!
I wonder if I could replicate this kind of activity in our very rural, Black Belt community in West Alabama. What would it take to do? Where could I put the hole in the wall? How would I record the interactions with the kids? How much video tape would I have to look at to do this qualitative research?
I wonder if this principle is applicable to adults or if our current education system makes sure that the creativity and curiosity is completely gone. Obviously, like Will, I have several thoughts about this swimming around in my head.,br>
Susan Rice says
To me, the take away is that learning like this does not exist in a vacuum, but emerges from the relationships we build with other human beings because of our universal need to understand each other. Remove the human interaction and where is the desire to learn and explore? As an educator, I develop relationships with my students to guide and collaborate as effective learners, both my students and I.
Some will posit that some are self motivated to learn and while some motivation is intrinsic, there is a gain in a human connection with someone when we learn. A reader develops a relationship with the characters or the author as he learns. The video gamer in the basement has bragging rights on his increases in game scores. I’m convinced, our relationship with each other elicits learning gains.
Donna DesRoches says
The talk makes me wonder about our striving for one-to-one which has the potential to maintain the status quo – nice tidy rows of desks each with a laptop/netbook/ipad on it. Maybe money intended for one-to-one programs should be spent on constructing SOLE’s – using technology to do new things in new ways.
Terry Kaminski says
I think Arne Duncan ad all education ministers should listen to Mitra and spend the entire American Education budget trying to achieve what Mitra proposes. Education would be better for it, students would be totally engaged and learning would happen at incredibly fast rates.
I would love to see schools operate the way things happened in this TED talk. I hope I see it in my life time!!!
Drew Smith says
All I can do right now is put Mitra’s work into context with that of Clay Shirkey and attempt to frame it within the lens of disruptive innovation. But I’m not really worried about teachers. If we show learners what we can do for them we don’t have to worry. Now my head is indeed swimming, but what says that the resulting change proposed here would be a bad thing? Maybe a rise of self-directed learners is what is needed to combat a landscape of soulless summative assessments.
In my experience few things spur on and challenge students like other students. But our challenge as educators is to show our value by helping create situations where learners can add value to their experiences. Mitra’s work points not so much the change needed in those that deliver education as much as it demands change in how we evaluate learning.
Maria Croley says
I loved the video, and loved reading all the comments as well! I totally agree that teachers are not obsolete, and we need to help our students to function in this rapidly changing 21st century world. Our jobs as educators are now just as much about teaching kids to be responsible global citizens as they are about teaching content and critical thinking!
Teachers will perhaps not become obsolete, but their numbers may begin to decrease if (when!) SOLEs and virtual learning labs become the dominant mode of knowledge transfer.
I have no problem with this. Self-directed learning is what we seem to seek, if you believe everything you hear at department meetings, curriculum planning committees, and all-staff gatherings. Yet, we don’t seem to allow much self-direction when it comes to learning, aside from permitting students to self-select research topics and/or reporting outputs.
Mitra’s idea about self-organizing systems is one I think we are resistant to entertain, nor are we willing to experiment with it. To do so means to give up control and direction, oversight, rules/laws/regulations, to eliminate the hard boundaries of the classroom walls, and allow children to engage in behaviors that can’t be strictly monitored or regulated by officials – heaven forbid it. It follows on the heels of Proudhon and Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order arising out of chaos (and yes, I do know that this is originally Taoist philosophy).
Sometimes I don’t think we give children enough credit to be able to solve problems or work collaboratively. We put too many of our adult biases, via our own positive or negative experiences, on the experience of children learning something for the first time. If we learned to let go a little, and stop policing every tiny act of shock or defiance or inattentiveness, we might really put the fun and the interest back into learning. It seems like literally eliminating school buildings as we know them might be the best thing we can do to encourage learning, experimentation, creativity, and problem solving.
Brenda Redding says
I agree with you that many (not all) adults are hesitant to give up control and that we don’t give students enough credit to solve problems independently or work collaboratively. Yet, these are the skills today’s students need for the future-we are inundated with this message and the only way students will succeed is if they are given opportunities to solve problems and work together.
The video was very interesting. Children can be self-motivated if the activity is interesting and challenging enough. They love things that seem new and exciting. Would it stay exciting enough to last without a “real teacher” involved? What about safety? I believe that teaching will be very different in the future, but I’m still not convinced that teachers will become obsolete?
Tom Johnston says
My 16 year old son uploads walk-throughs of video games with his friends using voice overs and writing out the narrative beforehand and getting the writing proofread and peer edited to make sure they did a good job. This is his fun. Then he goes to English class and suffers through a day of what he feels is meaningless questions and answers and he gives a minimum of effort.
He and his friends are self organizing their learning and it is emergent. This is happening not because of school but outside of and in spite of school.
Learning is as natural as eating but not at most schools. It becomes contrived and mechanistic and schools are under the pressure of standardized tests that supposedly prove quantitative objective success or failure of the schools/teachers.(very little to do with emergent learning)
I fear that schools will simply be seen to be a very poor way to get educated in comparison to other pathways. Some new system of learning will show up very soon and go viral and put the public schools out of business unless the public schools become that new system.
Marcus Johnson says
I do not believe teachers will ever become fully obsolete, but I do believe that the amount of teachers needed will dwindle and that the roles that educators play will change drastically. I often tell my students that my job is not to teach them but to help them learn/understand how to teach themselves. This research validates that in a sense. As some said before me, the key to this is that the children are engaged. Another important fact that shouldn’t be overlooked is that they are in groups (learning communities). We have to address today’s students according to their needs more so than our want to stay in our comfort zones as adults.
I agree with you that the students were in groups, which is what we as teachers are told should be happening in the classroom. Students are self-motivated to learn when it is something that they want to learn about. The students in India were not used to having a computer to play with or use everyday. What are your thoughts on American children who have all of these technology tools at their fingertips? Do you think it would hard to keep our students challenged, and do the schools have the money to do so?
Randy Gould says
Listening to this confirms what my colleagues and I have been talking about for some time now. Give children tasks that engage them. Allow them to interact with each other and explore through technology. Give them the freedom to discover things on their own. One question that comes to mind is how do we merge this with the way we have been asked, by the school board, to report on the progress of our students? It seems to me that until those who make decisions about assessment and reporting have a major shift in their thinking, we will be holding our students back.
Rodd Lucier says
What swims in my head?
How many educators have reasons for doing things the way they do them, beyond, I’ve always done it this way? How many educators are actively involved in assessing the effectiveness of their practice(s)?
Deschoolers like Ivan Illich (1970s) and John Taylor Gatto (1990s) have been pointing out the damaging effects of traditional schooling for many years.
Time for a radical rethink? I think so.
Gatto’s ideas are outlined on wikipedia:
What does the school do with the children?
Gatto takes this in “Dumbing Us Down”, the following propositions:
1. It makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, fills almost the whole, “free” time of the children. One sees and hears something, to forget it again.
2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
3. It makes them indifferent.
4. It makes them emotionally dependent.
5. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence which requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
6. It makes it clear to them that they can not hide, because they are always supervised.
Robin Heyden says
Wonderful TED talk! Thanks for bringing it to us, Will. I often quote Cathy Davidson’s line…if a teacher from the early 1900’s walked into a classroom today, they would know exactly what to do. Desks lined up in rows, teacher stands at the front, chalkboard, pencils….Not much has changed in 100 years. But if that same teacher walked into one of Sugata Mitra’s SOLEs, they would need to alter their methods. Maybe that could be one of our yardsticks for change?
Harihar Rajaram says
I think there is great potential for using technology in teaching and learning (either unsupervised or supervised), but I am skeptical about the depth of learning that is achieved in these experiments of Sugata Mitra’s that are described here and in his other lectures. If it is facts, and learning is measured by performance on a multiple-choice type test, maybe there is some evidence that the students have learnt “well”. But in my own experience with > 15 years of teaching engineering science courses (e.g. fluid mechanics) at college level, I have found that purely technology-based learning does not always lead to retention or an ability to understand what fundamental physical or mathematical concepts need to be invoked, to solve a problem presented to a student. The best of students don’t need a teacher, true; but I think the vast majority do not know how to go about learning unless they are guided……I use web sites with all kinds of information for the students, I use a lot of experiments and demonstrations, but year after year, although students appreciate these, they feel that the most valuable part of a course is the old-fashioned classroom lecture where we learn and understand and solve problems using a somewhat socratic approach.