Mirja Kaarlela and Eilif Trondsen: Reinventing education, finally?

In Silicon Valley there is a lot of buzz and energy but also applications and interaction at the cross-section of technology and education. The times when e-learning created a lot of interest but hardly any tangible outcomes are long gone. The current buzz about learning technologies and platforms provide a glimpse of the possible futures and these futures are inspiring interest and support from all sorts of directions.

A growing number of people from academia, venture capital community and technology companies is making noise about technology and software solutions transforming ways of learning and education. Most of these people are not educators or experts on learning but instead they are passionate about taking active roles in changing the broken and inefficient education system. And as one of the most prominent Silicon Valley venture investor says, disruptive innovation most often comes outside the industry, driven by entrepreneurs taking risks and challenging established practices and status quo.

DIY U – do it yourself university. MOOCs – massive open online courses. Learning Analytics – Using data and cloud computing to gain new insights into learning. Tablets in Education – Providing the potential for more interactive and engaging learning. Knewton, Grockit and Dreambox Learning – companies that have all received considerable VC funding. These are just a few of the latest developments and companies that are shaking the status quo as we speak.

It has been already some years now that technology has had a profound effect on the way we are teaching and learning, be it elementary level, university level or corporate learning. Most teachers and schools, however, are still struggling to understand what all this new technology means and how to best relate to it. In many schools teaching is done exactly the same way students have been learning hundreds of years: lectures in classrooms to a passive audience.

At the same time, most advanced students around the world are already using all possible mobile, digital and virtual tools to access knowledge, build on it and help each other. Knowledge is within their reach with just a click of a search –button. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica which is one of the most highly regarded scholarly of English language encyclopedias, had its final printed volumes out in 2010, after 244 years in printing, and is now open digitally.

Schools and universities are to prepare students for society and we can only try to imagine how digital society will look like in years to come. In the American university education system, the campus experience is the foundation from which many networks, for example, are nurtured. Sports, the team spirit, the sharing of experiences are all examples that cannot be virtualized – at least not yet.

New and different networks and social experiences can be launched and nurtured on the Web, however, and easily across international borders and timelines. The future learning experience will probably see a delicate balance of human touch skills and capabilities combined with mobilized and digitalized knowledge creation and sharing with the help of smart devices. There are many open questions – course credits, business models, privacy – that need to be solved thus creating opportunities for further research and business endeavors.

What is clear is that one size fits all learning will not work. Future students will require collaborative and interactive, anytime-anywhere, personalized learning experiences where they can share their experiences with fellow students be they in Silicon Valley, Kuala Lumpur or Helsinki.

Mirja Kaarlela
Head of office, Tekes Silicon Valley

Eilif Trondsen,
Director, Learning, Innovation and Virtual Technologies, Strategic Business Insights


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