Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
In order to unlock the human potential of a child, we must first unlock their learning potential. For those of us in the Next Generation Learning community who hope to create a paradigm of learning that is at once, student centered and student driven; very engaging and highly effective, Sugata Mitra's Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) is a provocative vision for the future. As an education innovator, optimist and dreamer, I am captivated by the young children featured in Mitra's "Hole in the Wall" videos who seem genuinely delighted and undaunted by the perplexing challenges they are asked to solve on their own. I admire the daring experimentation of Mitra's model and his wish to build a school in the cloud -- one that has the potential to serve millions of underserved children around the globe.
This is a wish about access. This is a wish about high expectations. This is a wish about hope -- about seeing around impediments to the infinite possibilities. Mitra's vision is based on providing access to a self-driven, motivating and collaborative learning experience, for every child in the world. Mitra's vision, which I share, is based on a belief that learning outcomes should not, indeed cannot, be determined by poverty or by the absence of expert-learning guardians available to a child. This is a determined vision of hope.
The theory of self-organized learning -- "allowing learning to happen, not making it happen" -- taps into and celebrates our innate creativity and sense of curiosity. I believe this curiosity fuels experimentation and serves as the foundation of innovation. Collaborative learning allows us to harness collective wisdom that benefits both individual learners and the learning communities of which they are a part. On some level, the "Hole in the Wall" model Mitra presents is a blended learning model, one that seamlessly integrates technology into the learning experience. Whether meaningful learning experiences are derived from a great teacher or in the case of Mr. Mitra's School in the Cloud, from the children themselves, what is clear is that encouragement is vital to student success. We want to cultivate a new kind of learner, one who continually remakes themselves as the world around them morphs before their eyes. We must prepare our children for industries and jobs that don't yet exist. This kind of learner is an adaptive learner and one who will not only survive the increasingly globalized, information-driven world, but who will drive it.
Mitra asked the TED2013 audience: "Is knowing obsolete?" I think one of the biggest challenges in education is: How do you measure individual learning progression when students are exclusively engaged in collective learning? If the group solved the problem collectively, how do you know which students could solve the problem on their own? How do you know which student needs reinforcement of basic foundational concepts, say in math or reading? Every child has a different learning style and pace so while collaboration is beneficial and should be part of the overall learning mix, I argue that real-time personalized learning has to be part of the bigger solution. There are promising intelligent adaptive learning technologies that now are being used in economically challenging environments. This technology is powered by real-time formative data and personalizes learning to ensure that each child receives exactly what they need, when they need it, all in real time. Perhaps Mitra already has this on his long-range radar -- first, to simply give kids the opportunity and encouragement to explore and learn, and then build on that foundation to allow them to become masters of STEM and other subjects as we continue to cultivate our future leaders.
Take Richard Turere, the 13-year-old Maasai teenager who spoke just before Mr. Mitra. He lives in the wilderness of the Kenya savanna and invented "lion lights" to protect his family's livestock as a result of dismantling and tinkering with electrical household appliances. He exhibits an adaptive intelligence that is self-taught. His dream is to become an aircraft engineer. For that, to be sure, he'll need a bit more structure and education. Nevertheless, we should expect to see more curiosity and exploration from this promising young talent.
Exploration. Innovation. Invention. They are all empowered by curiosity and creativity. Richard depended on both to devise a clever solution to a real problem. All of us depend on both to fuel our collective future.
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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