The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on education on schools around the world, often rendering in-classroom instruction too dangerous for both students and teachers. But one reason the effects of the pandemic haven’t been even worse is that, in education as in many other fields, a few new technologies were ready for broader deployment.
I’m not talking about Zoom and other forms of videoconferencing, which have by and large been a disaster for both K-12 and college students. Rather, I’m talking about massive open online courses, or MOOCs, as well as the huge body of instructional videos available at low or zero cost on YouTube and sites like Khan Academy.
Coursera, the world’s largest MOOC provider, added 31 million new users in 2020, compared to just 8 million new users in 2019. The second-place MOOC provider, edX, added 10 million users in 2020, twice the number of new students who joined the year before. Evidently, millions of students of all ages want to use their stuck-at-home time to learn something useful.
But how effective, really, are online course materials? How do MOOCs fit in with what cognitive scientists and neuroscientists are discovering about how students learn best? And what do K-12 schools and institutions of higher education plan to do to incorporate elements of online learning into their curricula and meet the growing demand for high-quality learning experiences after the pandemic passes?
Transforming How We Learn
In this episode of “Soonish,” we talk through those questions with Sanjay Sarma, vice-president of open learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is one of the founding members of edX and a supplier of hundreds of its most popular MOOCs. Together with co-author Luke Yoquinto, Sarma published a book in August 2020 called “Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn.”
Though it was written before the pandemic hit, the book offers a timely look at how educators at the K-12 and university level could make smart use of technology to build a new, broader educational pipeline that’s more user-friendly and open to millions more people. Sarma says that will mean implementing more of the learning tricks researchers already know about, such as spaced repetition and interleaving, and finding better ways to scale up the coaching and contextual learning that are so effective in in-person settings like MIT’s famous 2.007 robot competition.
- 00:08 Soonish theme
- 00:23 The Allure of Tech-ification
- 02:57 Sanjay Sarma on 1930s Edtech: the Link Trainer
- 06:35 Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn
- 07:30 The Winnower
- 09:35 Making Learning More User-Friendly
- 11:10 The Science of the Brain and the Art of Teaching
- 14:30 Context Makes Learning Click Into Place
- 16:03 MIT 2.007: The Robot Competition
- 19:34 Designing MOOCs at MIT and edX
- 22:44 The Limits of MOOCs
- 25:12 How to Scale Up Contextual Learning
- 30:08 Opening up Elite Schools and Inverted Admissions
- 34:14 Learning in the Pandemic: The Worst of Both Worlds
- 36:54 End Credits and Acknowledgements
- 37:55 Promo: The Briny
*[“Soonish” is produced by Wade Roush. Click here for a full list of episodes.]
The views expressed in this post are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.