Advances in Global Learning Through Collective Education

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Human EvolutionWe need to talk about why it is of critical importance at this point in the history of human evolution that learning becomes available to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. We must take full advantage of the technology that will enable us to bring an unprecedented collective intelligence to learning, as well as solving problems and challenges.

Here’s the point: If we are to continue to evolve from the treetops to the Savannah to wherever we are headed in the futures, we need to find a creative and innovative way to transfer knowledge and know-how to all of us. There are not enough people to do the teaching anymore. In order to collectively move along to the next branch of the evolutionary tree, we will need to use all the technology we currently have and embrace whatever comes next.

Here’s great story that illustrates the point. Daphne Koller is a computer science professor at Stanford, and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She has been working for years to make online education more engaging and interactive.

“On the long term, I think the potential for this to revolutionize education is just tremendous,” Koller says. “There are millions of people around the world that have access only to the poorest quality of education or sometimes nothing at all.”

Technology could change that by making it possible to teach classes with 100,000 students as easily and as cheaply as a class with just 100. And if you look around the world, demand for education in places like South Africa is enormous.

Early last year, at the University of Johannesburg, more than 20 people were injured and one woman was killed trying register for a limited number of openings. Thousands had camped out overnight hoping to snag one of the few available places, and when the gates opened, there was a stampede. Koller hopes that in the future, technology will help prevent these kinds of tragedies.

For decades, technology has promised to remake education — and it may finally be about to deliver. Online learning models from startups and universities on both coasts and places in between are helping solve the problems inherent in the previous analog educational system.

It seems that we are finally entering a period in which online education — high-quality online education — can bring the learning to the students and not the other way around.

In another post, I want to look about the countries that are leading this learning revolution. And it’s not America. First, let’s look at some of these early education experiments. This partial list is from a July 6, 2012, article in article in The Huffington Post by Jack Hidary. It looks at what I believe are some of the leading experiments in this brave new world of digital learning.


Stanford University computer science professor Sebastian Thurn announced on a Friday that they would allow anyone, anywhere to attend the Online Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course online, take quizzes, ask questions, and even get grades for free. They made the announcement by sending out a single email to a professional group.

“Within hours, we had 5,000 students signed up,” Thrun says. “That was on a Saturday morning. On Sunday night, we had 10,000 students.” And the numbers went up from there. The experience showed them that there is a widespread demand for college-level online education. The result is a new startup: Udacity.


Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng from Stanford founded Coursera. In a recent Forbes article, Koller expressed the hope that “maybe the next Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs is living in a remote village in Africa.” Bringing top professors to a global audience can certainly change the rules where formerly only a small, carefully selected, and often elite group could learn from the world’s best teachers. One of the great things about this approach is the ability to react quickly. At one point in a course, Ng noticed that 5,000 students made the identical mistake in an online quiz. Within minutes, he was able to fix the issue and get everyone back on track.

EdX — MIT and Harvard

MIT has had its Open Courseware (OCW) program since 2002. They recently teamed up with Harvard to start EdX that adds new courses, designed for students to take with interaction and supervision, to the more than 2,000 archived programs from MIT OCW.

There are other startups and experiments, and they all have a singular focus. Bring the learning to the students, and often in a new and disruptive way, that enables rather than disables the human learning function. They have not yet developed to the point where the students can work with one another to create a Community of Learners that could then graduate into a worldwide collaborative Community of Practice.

That technology is already here, and my prediction is that it will be employed next. When we get to that point, imagine 150,000 students around the planet working together on the same problem at the same time. The mind boggles.

Source: “Stanford Takes Online Schooling To The Next Academic Level,” NPR, 01/23/12
Source: “The Revolution: Top Ten Disruptors of Education,” The Huffington Post, 07/06/12
Source: “Unit 22 01 Sentence Structure.mp4,” YouTube