In a recent blog I talked about the Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organisation which aims for nothing less than to provide "a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere". The models and ideas behind it - things such as self-paced learning, flipping the classroom, expecting mastery - had me babbling ecstatically about the potential of elearning and the future of education generally.
(You can read those ecstatic babbles here).
In this blog, I just want to tell you a bit about some work we've been doing lately which, to my great joy and delight, actually puts some of these Khan Academy tenets into practice.
We have a contract with a professional accounting certification body, where each year we work together to update the courses we've built. This year the work involved creating several new courses as well.
These new courses are self-paced - it's elearning, after all - meaning that people can pause, go back, and repeat as necessary; can go over things as many times as they want; can access it anywhere, anytime, whether that's at work, or sat in a coffee shop, or at 11pm when the kids are finally asleep.
They also hold this idea of expecting mastery. Each course is broken down into about 10 modules, each of them encapsulating a different concept. Each module has a 'Quick Quiz' at the end - results aren't counted as part of the certification assessment, but you cannot move on to the next module until you've got 100% in this module's quiz. We expect you to know everything you need to before we allow you to move on. We expect mastery of the subject.
There's also potential here for this flipped classroom environment. In the world of the Khan Academy, this means doing the classroom lecture as homework (via YouTube videos) and then in the classroom, doing the work that would traditionally be assigned as homework. The benefits of this are that the teacher, rather than talking at 30 blank-faced people for an hour, gets to interact with the students and step in where they need help - the teacher gets to actually teach! And the students, rather than sitting in passive silence, can interact with one another, mentoring each other where needed.
In terms of our elearning, the potential for this kind of environment is here. For starters we have exercises scattered throughout the course that link to an online forum. So you can submit your own answer, and then see how other students have responded to the same question. But that only takes you so far. I've said the potential is here because this isn't something we as elearning developers can control. What's needed here is something we can't provide: namely, discussion with someone else who's studying the course.
Maybe you grab a drink with someone who works a few offices down from you, and talk through pieces you've struggled with or a concept they found interesting. You figure things out together. You learn together.
Or maybe you work for a company who buys these courses in bulk, and someone organises meetings where you can all come together and share your thoughts on what you've been learning. Maybe you debate. Maybe you disagree. Maybe you turn to the resident expert in the room for a final, definitive opinion - the way students in a classroom might call a teacher over to consult on something they can't figure out alone.
Like I said - potential, and not something we can provide. We can only suggest. But just imagine, if learning worked this way. The 70:20:10 model states that only 10% of our learning is done through formal programmes. Imagine if we gave more attention to the 70% and 20% of experiential and social learning. Imagine if people stopped seeing elearning as a complete solution to everything, and started to realise it's only meant to be a part of a bigger picture.
So I'm proud of this work we've been doing, for all that it does and all it could do, and this is why I wanted to share it with you. There are so many other things to talk about here; the multiple translations we've been doing, localising our courses for different places all around the world; the ways we've made them engaging and have encouraged active learning; the challenges of holding so many projects at once, and making sure they're all sticking to schedule...
But I'll let those be the subjects of other blogs.