The future of education is autonomous learning:
Many people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs in the educational system. And very often the proposed solutions lose sight of the fundamental issues. The lack or unavailability of quality teachers, in adequate numbers.
In this age of Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning, we are all experiencing more and more intelligent automation.
But the history of human progress has always been about increasing automation. As a child I was very fascinated to note that the lights of the refrigerator switched on automatically when it’s door was opened. We saw the emergence of automatic telephone dialling rather than calling up the operator to connect a call. For some time, while local calls were automated, trunk calls and International calls were still operator assisted. We have seen microwave ovens becoming commonplace that don’t have a visible obvious source of heat, and cellular phones without copper wires. Also the evolution of cars from their earlier version of ‘ horseless carriages’ to ‘self-driving cars’.
If India wants to become a $5 trillion dollar economy in the foreseeable future, it will have to overcome the challenge of rapidly training millions of young in the requisite skills of the 21st century. This requires that we transform our passive and reluctant learners to active self-directed learners, shifting the focus of education from teaching to learning.
Autonomous learning is the future of education. We must now think that instead of having a classroom of twenty students, we now have “twenty classrooms” of one student, each with their own agenda. Students should be able to work independently and be given the freedom to do so. Autonomous learning would allow the learner to personalize his/her learning agenda based on his/her academic strengths and personal interests, and self-monitor his/her achievements.
The teaching curriculum might look a bit different in the autonomous classroom. The teacher will be responsible for sharing self-monitoring strategies. Students might use learning logs or charts and tables to follow their progress. Teachers will teach error analysis and help students use their mistakes as learning opportunities to accommodate their learning goals. Teachers must provide the necessary guidance to help students choose their personal learning goals. Teachers must provide feedback as student pursue their own questions and solve their own problems. Teachers remain the most important part of the autonomous classroom. They guide and help the learner in becoming a better autonomous learner, increasingly less dependent upon a teacher for all the learning needs.
Let’s take a look at autonomous learning: The student is working on his science objective in the field of chemistry. The student goes into his virtual science laboratory. Here he experiments using chemicals that might be considered dangerous in the traditional classroom. In his virtual lab, the student witnesses the chemical reactions and must determine why the chemical reacted in that manner. While in that virtual world, the student finds an artificially intelligent computer that moves the student through a lesson on chemical reactions. The student then logs his work and determines his ability to meet his goal(s). That same student then meets in a small discussion group with his teacher and others to solve real world problems using necessary math skills. After making a determination and deriving at a solution, the teachers uses augmented reality to determine if their solution actually solved the problem. The student will continue his learning at home as he uses his foreign language application to practice his chosen foreign language as he prepares to meet his “Family Abroad”.
What about the teacher? Are we doing away with teachers? Regardless of the teaching/learning philosophy, the teacher remains pivotal part of the learning process. When teachers ask if technology will replace teachers, I respond by saying that “ Technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who use technology effectively to develop autonomous learners will replace those teachers who cannot.”
Just like for an autonomous car, there needs to be some guidance and direction in order for that vehicle or in this case that student to arrive at its destination. Consider the teacher the GPS of the autonomous learner. The teacher will offer up a variety of paths to students’ destinations and also suggest best routes. The teacher will be the director of the system, helping students decide on their destinations and helping them get there by passing through various necessary skills and standards that the students will need once they reach that point.
We are presented with the same kind of thinking when it comes to education. Let’s think about the self-driving student, also known as the self-directed learner or the autonomous learner. What do we mean by autonomous learning? An autonomous learner is “one who solves problems or develops new ideas through a combination of divergent and convergent thinking and functions with minimal external guidance in the chosen areas of endeavor.”
Traditional face to face learning evolved to Open and distance learning exemplified globally as the UKOU and in India as the IGNOU. While regulators in India have strangled the growth of distance learning, and other innovations in learner centric there is now a ‘Quantum jump’ to self-directed learning. Educators have been talking about independent learning, personalized learning, and student-centered learning for a very long time. The difference today is that new technologies powered with AI have given us the unique abilities to accomplish this task with greater success.
It is often said that evolutionary changes happen in response to the pressures of the external environment. Sometimes it is simplified to “ necessity is the mother of invention”. The AI powered autonomous learner , is a result of this evolutionary learning process to cope with the situation when there is no teacher.
The WEF 2020 meeting at Davos just concluded. One of the panel discussions was on the Reskilling revolution : Better skills for a billion people by 2030.
Link to the video of panel discussion on the topic : https://youtu.be/mlpMomsOWxA
Autonomous learning is clearly a very critical part of the above mission and an important element of the strategy to reach the goal by 2030.