Reading Assignment: The Future of (MIT) Education

By | August 27, 2014

If you have completed all your summer reading books, or even if you haven’t, an important addition to your list is the final report from MIT’s Task Force on the Future of Education.  As with many committee reports the news is not so much in the newness of the ideas but in who is saying it.  In this case the report presents 16 specific recommendations for consideration.  Many are internally focused and fairly specific to MIT.   However most could be applied or at least usefully considered at any institution of advanced training — whether a traditional university, a corporate training campus, or perhaps an industry association.

Modularity is an important theme through much of the report.  In terms of pedagogy, the authors noted new digital technologies make possible an unbundling of the traditional model of providing higher education with key benefits in the areas of flexibility, connectedness, contextualization, and assessment.  A hybrid or blended model of online and traditional learning models they felt could offer many promising avenues worthy of exploration and experimentation.    Importantly, however, the report stresses that technology should follow and support the values and principles of the institution —  good advice for all of us.

I particularly liked the important role community played throughout the report.  Online learning can be isolating if taken out of context and done without the benefit of peers looking to solve the same or similar problems.  Thoughtful strategies include forming student cohorts that progress through online learning experience roughly synchronously.  Setting context within social, global, science, and technology frameworks leads naturally to identifying communities of interest which, of course, have long been a fundamental motivation for individuals getting online.

There is much to consider in the report but one last item to which I would draw your attention would be a pragmatic issue repeated several times in the report:

To achieve this kind of fluidity and malleability in learning, the Task Force recommends exploring options for establishing a module repository. To support student selection of  modules, there must be some mechanism for storing and curating the content. Whether  through tags or filters, a simple but effective repository would allow students and  educators to identify and utilize the modules that best meet their needs. (p. 14)

As much as digital tools and services are increasingly recognized as likely to change the face of education across the board, there are  basic foundational digital building blocks that need to be established in a thoughtful manner — among the most important and readily started are curated repositories of learning modules.  I would only add based on my decades of experience with online media, that such repositories should be tightly and integrated with appropriate learning and teaching interactive communities so as to become truly dynamic, timely, and constantly renewed source of content and data.