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School Days 2.0: Connected, Borderless, and Highly Inclusive

Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass

Chuck Berry’s old hit “School Days” sums up an educational model that has persisted since the 1800s — if not since Aristotle. Students and their classmates sit within the same walls and absorb rote knowledge from one teacher at a time. And woe to those who fail to show up for the morning bell or to follow the lesson plan!

But if you think your own school days are a model for the future, get ready for a whole new lesson plan. Just as the Internet of Everything (IoE) is disrupting so many other areas of our lives (not to mention business models), its ever-expanding wave of network connectivity promises to upend education as well.

After all, when people, process, data, and things are linked in startling new ways, radical transformation follows. Within the context of learning, the very definition of schools, students, teachers, and classrooms is being challenged. Now, your classroom is wherever you happen to be, and your lessons take place when you want them — all thanks to a convergence of IoE cornerstones such as mobility, media-rich collaboration tools, cloud, and analytics.

Cisco predicts that the IoE Value at Stake will be $4.6 trillion for the public sector worldwide over the next decade. Of that total, $258 billion in value will come from Connected Education.

 

Some of this potential is apparent with MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), which are already offered by universities such as Stanford and Harvard. They are pioneering a connected, interactive, collaborative, and borderless model of education in which teachers, students, and information can come from just about anywhere. And knowledge flows within the time frame that best suits a student’s needs — and learning style.

Recently, I had the privilege of exploring the future of education with some officials from another venerable brick-and-mortar learning institution that is embracing the new wave of digital disruption.

Here are a few insights that emerged during our conversations:

  • A Fast Track to Insight. Many job-conscious students are demanding an accelerated path to learning and skills. But in another sense, the ultimate consumers of education are in the business world, and they benefit greatly if students get to their organizations faster and with more relevant job skills. If online education can offer a certified, specialized degree in months instead of years, it will be a game changer — for students, schools, and businesses.
  • Knowledge Is Cheap. For centuries, educational institutions had a near monopoly on knowledge. In order to access much of it, you had to go there. Today, mind-boggling amounts of data are generated every minute. And an astronomical wealth of human knowledge is readily available to just about anyone with a smart device and a decent Internet connection. Cloud-based and crowdsourced platforms such as Coursera and Khan Academy are transforming the face of free education.
  • Teachers, Everywhere. One of the great benefits of IoE is inclusiveness. Anyone, anywhere can be a student, and anyone, anywhere can be a teacher. A student might begin learning from a professor in a specific field, but move on to interact with just about anyone with relevant experience. The whole notion of schoolmates is also changing as classroom walls dissolve. Interactive learning and creative collaboration will transcend borders and time zones, and students will gain access to an ecosystem — or network — of learning, which they can take with them, even into the workplace.

As I see it, education was like a store with no lights, forcing consumers to follow one known path and to buy only one thing. That is, until the lights came on and, suddenly, many alternate paths appeared.

I believe that as IoE illuminates new paths, the transformation of education will be profound. Stanford University is still a great institution, offering a first-rate education at its physical campus. Yet there will be important alternatives. Recently, the same Stanford class was offered on campus and online. But the top 200 students weren’t even from the school itself; they were scattered around the globe.

A crucial role for universities will be to facilitate the creation of that potentially global knowledge network, while managing the knowledge itself. Just as an app might filter out unimportant emails from the daily deluge, schools will provide a knowledge management system to cut through the data avalanche and focus on key insights.

In effect, education is no longer about simply giving a student the data. It’s about empowering the student to maneuver through data to gain and share relevant insights. And that student, of course, could be just about anywhere.

“Close up your books, get out of your seat,” Berry sang on his 1957 hit. “Down the halls and into the street.”

As usual, Chuck may have been ahead of his time. With a mobile device and IoE collaboration technologies, the street might be as a good a place as any to share and access knowledge.

The full potential of IoE / cloud-driven education is yet to be explored. I welcome thoughts on new innovations you’re seeing in education, and what you think should be happening.

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