By Jason Cole, CEO

During my recent staycation, I happily stumbled across the NPR TED Radio Hour. Two of my favorite things, NPR and TED, now mashed together as one in podcast form! So I loaded up the iFruit with a few episodes, including one entitled Unstoppable Learning, and went for a walk.

The episode features a long interview and excerpts from Sugate Mitra, the man behind the Hole in the Wall experiments in India (see Mitra’s TED talk to learn more about his amazing research). Mitra has become a firm believer in the ability of children to educate themselves. He envisions creating self-organizing learning environments (SOLEs) to enable children all over the world to explore questions of interest to themselves using the internet to ask and answer questions.

I was immediately taken with Mitra’s vision of learning and education. Ed techies have been talking for years about the changing role of the teacher from “sage on the stage to guide on the side”. Unfortunately, what most of us envisioned was replacing the teacher as sage with computer as sage. The flipped classroom model, where students watch their Khan Academy videos at night and then practice at school during the day, is a perfect example. Mitra’s research shows us we can go even further, and allow the learner to become their own sage.

But as Rita Pierson points out in the same program, the personal relationships matter.  As she says “Learning sometimes occurs because someone insists that you recognize the excellence in yourself ”. Treating students as consumers of content without the personal, emotional connection will leave many students behind. Mitra’s answer is the Granny Cloud, a group of retiree volunteers in the UK who log onto a Skype session once a week with students in India. They aren’t there to teach, but to tell stories, ask questions and provide encouragement.

Mitra’s and Pierson’s vision of learning is a radical departure from the regimented and measured approach to education common in many countries. Perhaps its just romanticism, but I’d like to believe educational technology can be used to do more than automate our current processes. Instead, perhaps we can create a new, social, human approach to learning.