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Education Innovation 'Beyond the Hole in the Wall'
March 20, 2012 - 9:00pm

Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning (Kindle Single) (TED Books) by Sugata Mitra

Accompanying TED Talk by Sugata Mitra.

We cannot predict what the next big thing in educational technology will be. We do not know what will come after the learning management system (LMS), iTunesU, MOOC's, MITx, or Khan Academy.

Although we can't predict exactly what the most important innovation in learning and technology will be in 2020, I think we can predict where this innovation will emerge. And that place will be one of the world's emerging economies

Maybe Brazil, maybe China, maybe in Africa - my money is on India. The world's largest democracy has the benefit of a culture that prizes learning, a large and highly educated diaspora (many of who work in technology fields), and a large enough young population that will demand exponential rather than incremental leaps in the delivery of education.

One of my data points for this assertion around India and the future of education is Sugata Mitra's fine book Beyond the Hole in the Wall, and the accompanying TED talk that spurred the writing of the book.   If you don't know the Hole in the Wall story (and I didn't) it is well worth your time to watch the 17 minute TED talk. The book beautifully rounds out the story, situating Mitra's experiments in technology and learning within the larger theoretical context of how people learn.  

Mitra's theory of learning can be summarized by his idea that "education is a self-organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.” He developed this theory via a series of experiments in which he exposed some of the India's poorest children to internet connected computers, and then stood back and watched what they were able to teach themselves.  Small groups of kids working on public computers, without the interference or even direction of teachers, were able to teach themselves (and each other) complicated materials. Learning increased when a "grandmother" type educator was added (either in-person or Skyped in), a person who offered a supportive and nurturing presence.

Out of the original experiments with kid-centric, public web connected computers made available to impoverished Indian kids, Mitra moved on to creating learning environments for kids in other emerging countries and in the wealthy world.  His SOLE's (self organized learning environments) are small glass-walled rooms with a few computers with broadband connections. An ideal ratio for learning turns out to be about 4 kids per 1 computer, as this forces the children to work together and to problem solve. The teacher's role moves from instruction to question asking and support.   

Could the SOLE approach be a method that could work in the U.S.? 

Is there a lesson here for teaching and learning in higher education?  

Will we be able to listen closely enough to the lessons in learning and technology that 10 year olds in India have to teach us?

What are you reading?


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