Beyond MOOCs: The Future of Learning on the Future Internet

March 26, 2014 in developing-world, events, featured

Last week I was able to attend a session at the Future Internet Assembly in Athens on The Future of Learning on the Future Internet. The session, although aimed at future Horizon2020 projects and not solely focussed on open education explored a number of different projects that may be of interest to the open education community. The session attempted to unpack the following ideas:

  • Following from MOOCs what are the future learning paradigms now emerging or currently on the horizon (from a pedagogical, educational and business perspective)?
  • What are the personal, social and economic benefits that these new learning forms will bring to Europe?
  • What requirements do these new learning frameworks impose on the next generation Internet (from a network, services/cloud, media, security, mobile perspective)?
  • How will we meet these requirements? To what extent will our current Future Internet activities meet the requirements? Is there anything we need to initiate?

John Domingue opens up the session

The session was facilitated by John Domingue from the Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK. John is involved in the Forging Online Education through FIRE (FORGE) Project. He began by pointing out that the education budget is currently being reduced in a number of EU regions, for example in Spain and Greece, and indicated that this is rationale for innovative solutions enabling the provisioning of cost-effective high quality learning, open education being one such solution. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) were offered as one possible path institutions and organisations could take but as the title suggest attendees were asked to think beyond MOOCs and consider alternative approaches.

To begin Rebecca Ferguson, Pedagogic Adviser at the Open University talked about her experience with the UK-based MOOC platform FutureLearn. FutureLearn ran its first course in September last year and now has more than a quarter of a million registered users. Rebecca raised some interesting discussion points on the challenges of online assessment at FutureLearn. For example how do you ensure the correct students take online exams? Approaches include watching students with webcams and check typing styles, though there is still more work to be done to ensure open and fair processes. Carmen Padrón-Nápoles also went on to talk about on how MOOCs can be used in work-based learning using ATOS and their Translectures programme as an example. Carmen explored some of the current trends followed in workbased learning including seamless learning and Micro-learning

One really exciting presentation was given by Natalia Arredondo from Newcastle University on the amazing School in the Cloud concept where there are no classrooms just rooms, a little like a cyber-café but only for children. The idea sprang from ‘Hole in the Wall’ computers in Indian slums enabling impoverished children to learn by themselves (an idea explored in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire). Prof Sugata Mitra is the lead behind the concept and in February this year was he awarded $1M from the TED organisation to continue his work, he has now focused on seven sites – five in India and two in the UK – where children from poor backgrounds use secure Skype connections to speak to a “cloud” of retired professionals (grannies) from a range of fields who have volunteered to share their expertise.

Natalia Arredondo talks about School in the Cloud

Natalia Arredondo talks about School in the Cloud

A clear area of focus for the session was services and cloud computing and how providers can give cheaper and easier access to large computational resources for learning purposes. I really enjoyed the talk given by Andrew Smith, Lecturer in Networking at The Open University. Andrew works as a Cisco trainer, Cisco Systems developed as part of their academy programme a simulator for teaching networking in 2007/8. In his talk he described how the simulator is used within the Open University and how the development of the multiuser tool may shape the future of teaching networking. Andrew also talked about issues such as low-bandwith in developing countries, and how we need to develop more with this in mind. Interesting in relation to recent discussions on the mailing list.

Other talks included: Dimitris Tsigos giving the SME perspective on learning, he demoed tools including TalentLMS and served up my favourite new word of the day – metanoia: “shift of mind” happening when a piece of information turns to knowledge. Dr. Afrodite Sevasti, CEO and co-Founder of Epignosis, Greece and President of the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs outlined how National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) support national education communities. Kuang-Ching Wang, Chief Business Development Officer at GRNET & Senior Project Manager in GÉANT talked about the NSF GENI Project, an innovative US infrastructure project.


Q&A session

Despite the technical focus of some of the later talks the Q&A session drifted on to the topic of open education with presenters arguing that it was a much needed approach. As one audience member commented – better infrastructure, is that really enough? What we actually need is a redesign of the learning experience.

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