Centre for Internet & Society

The peer-to-peer world of online learning encourages conversations and reciprocal learning, writes Nishant Shah in an article published in the Indian Express on 30 October 2011.

Technologies and learning have always had a close link. In the past, distance learning programmes of higher education through the postal service, remote education programmes using satellite TV and interactive learning projects using information and communication infrastructure, have all been deployed with varied results in promoting literacy and higher education. In the last two decades, the internet has also joined this technology ecology in trying to provide quality and affordable education to remotely located areas through “citizen service centres” envisioned to reach 6,40,000 Indian villages in the future.

These technology-based information outreach programmes expand the ability of traditional formal learning centres like universities, to cater to the needs of those who might not have access to learning resources. This vision of networked education relies on existing systems of centralised syllabus making, teacher-to-student information transfer, grade-based evaluation and accreditation systems, and a degree-centred approach to learning.

I was in New York last week, at an international summit on the future of learning, Mobility Shifts, organised by the New School, where more than 260 speakers from 21 countries discussed the possibility of learning beyond the bounds of the school and university system. Many discussions were around the declining public education system (with huge disinvestment moves from the government), privatisation of education, increasing tuition and fees, and the non-relevance of current education. However, along with this digital expansion of the traditional education system is an emerging trend that challenges the ways in which we understand education and learning – DIY Learning or Do It Yourself Learning.

DIY Learning is a product of the networked condition. It recognises that as more people get onto digital information networks, there is a possibility of producing peer-to-peer learning conditions, which do not have to follow our accepted models of learning and education.

We have seen the rise of various decentralised and democratised knowledge repositories like Wikipedia. The search based algorithms of search engines also take into consideration the idea that knowledge is personal. User generated content sites like eHow.com show that the individual learner is not merely a recipient of information and knowledge. Information seeking spaces like Quora have shown that knowledge-sharing communities can incite new conditions of learning. Our contexts, experiences, everyday practices, aspirations etc. equip us with valuable information, which not only shape how we learn but also what we find relevant to learn for ourselves. DIY Learning picks up on the idea that the infrastructure of education is not necessarily designed towards learning. Learning often happens outside the classrooms, in informal conversations.

Thus DIY Learning offers a new model of learning. It destabilises the established hierarchy of knowledge production and pedagogy and creates an each-one-teach-one model with a twist. Instead of a centralised board of curriculum designer who shape syllabi for the “average” student, you have the possibility of customised, highly individual, interest-based learning curricula where the student is a part of deciding what s/he wants to learn. DIY Learning doesn’t recognise the distinctions between teachers and students, but recognises them as “peers” within a network, encouraging conversations and reciprocal learning rather than information transfer based classroom models. Instead of mass-produced education that caters only to an imagined average, the DIY Learning model recognises that within the same student group, there are different rates and scales of learning, thus offering environments suited to the aptitude of the students.

Within the DIY Learning model, aspects of education, from the design of curriculum and learning methods, to grading and evaluation are geared towards individual preferences and aspirations.

Many people think of DIY Learning as an alternative to mainstream learning processes and structures. However, it is perhaps more fruitful to think of DIY Learning as a way of figuring out the problems that beset our traditional educational system. It allows us to rethink the relationships between learning, education, teaching and technologies. It recalibrates the space of the classroom and reconfigures the role of the teacher and the student.

DIY Learning emphasises that merely building schools and universities is not enough to assure that learning happens. Learning happens through experiences, practice, conversations, internalisations and through making mistakes. DIY Learning offers these possibilities in an education universe that is constantly refusing to take risks, innovate and adapt to the needs of the present. By itself it might not be able to take on the roles and functions of the existing education systems. But it does warn us that we are preparing our students for our pasts rather than their futures. And the time to change is now.

The original story was published in the Indian Express, it can be read here

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