Nowadays, things are changing faster than ever before. Most industries are experiencing rapid and substantial disruption, and education is no different. In most parts of the world, the traditional view of education in a classroom with a teacher and 25 to 35 children is becoming outdated.
In fact, gone are the days when we produced wave upon wave of school leavers who were expected to fit into a highly standardised world. The new buzzword is individualisation, a strong post-modern shift in society and one of the most important challenges for 21st century education.
The ancient Greeks understood how to individualise the learning journey and develop learners to their full potential. They made use of tutors to guide individuals or small groups, covering a broad set of skills and topics. Learning was often based on the Socratic Method, a way of questioning learners to help them arrive at new insights. Similar examples of individualised learning techniques can be found in most ancient civilisations, from India and China in the east, to Africa and the Islamic world, Europe and the Americas.
Children of wealthy parents were also often schooled by a highly skilled (and often very expensive) private tutor. Even children from less wealthy families could become apprentices under a master, receiving personal training in their craft. This level of focus on the capabilities and needs of an individual learner typically resulted in superior quality learning outcomes.
Unfortunately, most people couldn’t (and still can’t) afford a private teacher. This resulted in the introduction of formal schooling, which was aimed at creating a system where the majority of the population could be schooled to an acceptable standard at an affordable cost. However, affordability and consistency meant a compromise on quality: larger groups of learners were assigned to teachers (with less individual focus), and learning topics were standardised into a curriculum.
As parents and employers are demanding more from the learners that emerge from our education system, this carbon copy learning approach is quickly becoming outdated, and is being challenged in the modern economy.
Most people agree that the future will require adaptable and multi-skilled individuals to contribute to society. As such, we need to transform the education system to match this requirement. Luckily, we do not have to reinvent the wheel – we simply have to incorporate the wisdom of ancient civilisations. They understood that the focus should be on truly individualised learning across multiple topics, competencies, and character qualities, at the learner’s optimal pace to reach his/her full potential.
How will this happen? Technology will play a critical role in the individualised learning environment, and can be used very effectively to customise the ongoing guidance of each individual learner. It can even be used to transform the content that learners engage with, and effortlessly link learners to each other and the wider global community, irrespective of location.
It can also be used to continuously gather information about a learner, using this to customise the learning journey. This means that the traditional role of the teacher can change from having to control the highly complex combination of learning journeys for everyone in their classroom, to that of a facilitator for individuals or smaller groups when they need specific help. Our traditional narrow focus on subjects will also need to be re-evaluated to ensure that learners can apply knowledge and skills across a broader set of modern encounters.
At FutureLearn, we continuously challenge ourselves to develop the future of learning. We are building an ecosystem to support guided learning, a term we use to describe the individualised learning journey of a child or adult to achieve a specific outcome. And we believe that individualised learning can be solved at costs that are affordable to every person in the world.
We realise that our focus in changing learning should be to emulate the highly individualised and successful learning environment that was created by tutors or masters with individual learners or smaller groups throughout history. Yes, it is a big challenge… but we are up to the task!
ARTICLE BY STEFAN BOTHA FUTURELEARN CEO