Author: Stephen Downes
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Okay, beginning with question one.
You asked the difference between Distance Education homeschooling and elearning distance education is education that takes place at a distance. I know that seems sort of obvious. But the idea is that the teacher and the student are in different locations. The actual medium in which education happens can vary. It might be by radio. It might be by print media. It might be by telephone, that’s how I began teaching. Or it might be online homeschooling. By contrast, is learning that takes place, as the name implies, in the home. Now, by home, we mean, really, any place that is more under the control of the parent than say an educational institution homeschooling can and often does take place in outside the home in places like libraries, museums, etc. Sometimes with and sometimes without the supervision the direct supervision of the parent homeschooling also sometimes can happen in a friend or neighbor’s home. If you have more than one parent actually sharing the duties of homeschooling of a homeschooling teacher. There is no particular medium for homeschooling. But homeschooling is often supported with distance education resources. That is resources that are obtained by telephone by mail or more usually now by internet. The third classification is elearning. And this is learning that is supported through the use of digital media. The most obvious instance of elearning is online learning. And that happens when the internet is used to distribute digital media. But in the early days of elearning as well. It was very common to have, for example, CD ROMs or other electronic media devices. that would be used to transport content. And so, elearning would include both recorded media as well as media distributed through the internet. My own specialization is none of these, it is in fact online learning, which is learning that is supported through the use of the Internet. This obviously includes distance learning. Though I no longer work on telephone or radio supported learning. This can include homeschooling, to the extent that online learning can support homeschooling. And of course it can and does include elearning because the media in online learning are all necessarily digital media. What’s distinct about online learning. And that makes it different from distance learning and elearning, is that many of the interactions are synchronous. We’re not working simply with learning content, but rather an essential part of online learning is the dialogue and interaction that takes place. And so online learning often involves not simply the creation of digital resources. But also, and probably more importantly, the creation of a learning environment where these interactions can take place.
Moving to the second question.
Distance Education is based on the principle of inclusion and democratization of education you suggest in the question. And yet, space has been open in which large education groups, seek to profit from this model not always offering quality courses. And that’s true. And I’m not going to name any names so I could remember way back in the early days of distance education. This was already a problem.
And there was something called bears guide.
And it was a listing of basically disreputable distance education providers. And it was needed at the time. And if it existed today it would still be needed. You know, it’s sort of the it was sort of the educational equivalent of Beals list. And that’s one of the problems with creating this sort of list. It’s not easy to distinguish between quality and non quality online learning. Traditionally for in class learning we’ve depended on elearning or not needling we’ve depended on
credit accreditation agencies.
For example, you know, in the US, they have these regional boards, and in Canada as well there’s a process and in fact in every country in the world there’s a process that recognizes whether a provider is a qualified learning provider. However, this is a bit too narrow. Because certainly there can be credible education providers that are not adequately accredited
For example, there might be, you know, Microsoft certification Novell certification, etc. which provide, you know, good quality education but aren’t regionally accredited and they’re not formal institutes of higher learning. And in fact, we see that most online learning comes not from formal institutes of higher learning, but rather through a very informal process. And there are dozens maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of people who provide learning online through media such as YouTube through media such as blog pages through media such as podcasts, and the like. For the most part it’s benign, for the most part it’s not a problem in the sense that people can pick and choose the learning resource or learning provider that’s good for them. But when the providers. Adopt a commercial model and begin to charge large amounts of money, or even medium amounts of money, then this becomes contentious. Probably the example that most people think of in recent years has been the commercial MOOCs. You know I’m thinking specifically of companies like Udemy and other MOOC companies that have adopted a commercial model. I pick on Udemy, particularly because it is based on self guided learning rather than actual classes online, which might include a cohort and real time support from an instructor, and my experience with those classes is you know like they’re put up online, and then abandoned. And people come along later and pay for them, and the quality is, shall we say, mixed.
I think that we’re in a bit of a chaotic state now. You know, the traditional accredited education providers are offering online learning and are offering it during the pandemic. But they’re not reducing their tuition. And they’re not really providing a discount and a lot of students have been complaining about that and I think they have a good reason to complain.
And as well.
I think that the tuitions that they charge are out of line with the value that that they provide. I recently cited the case, from what was it Carnegie Mellon, that was offering a course on how to build an online learning course. And it’s nothing you couldn’t get from reading my newsletter and reading the resources that I link to, but they’re charging 20 $700 for it. $2,700, more than 5000. If you want CMU credit for the course. And I think that’s outrageous. And I think that as we move more and more online, these prices will adjust, necessarily, because I think that at a certain point people are going to stop paying them, especially for online learning. And when that happens, and that’s happening now, there’s a crisis in the university system to crisis that I’ve been predicting for a long time. And it’s a crisis of sustainability it’s in some cases an existential crisis. And, you know, my my thinking is that this is something that should have been addressed a long time ago by the universities that they should have been thinking about affordability and access. But, you know, for the most part the university education and the university diploma has always been a premium product. It has been a signifier of wealth. And people have been willing to pay premium prices for it.
I think that probably is the market that is most challenged. I’m not sure what else I can say about that. But we’ll leave it there for now. Question three learning online today means taking a course from a learning management system is something I said. And the question is, in my opinion, are we still far from being able to explore the full potential. in pedagogical terms of distance education, why.
If I had to peg it.
I would say, we were about halfway to meeting that potential. Certainly if we’re just taking the course, out of a learning management system and if it’s a traditional course, like so many that I’ve seen where you just page through the material and maybe take a test and maybe if you’re lucky engage in some dialogue, and perhaps an interaction with a real person who’s teaching the course. Then we’re far away from reaching the pedagogical potential. But I think a lot of innovations in recent years have begun to expand on that, particularly in the areas of online work, collaborative work synchronous communication, interactive elements in a course, an emphasis on constructivist and constructionist models.
And these are things that have helped the learning be something more than just exposure to content but you’re expected to remember, these have been forms of learning that involve creativity expression and sharing. And as a result, create not simply new knowledge and skills, but a lot of the intangibles of learning, like being able to connect with people in the same discipline to acquire that vocabulary that way of thinking, shared understanding of what counts as a problem what counts as evidence, even just the way of looking at the world. And you know you need these immersive environments, whether they’re an audio conference a video conference or a simulation. You need these immersive environments to actually begin to think like, and actually be like a professional in such in such a discipline and to be eventually recognized as such by other professionals in that discipline.
So this is coming.
This is something that we worked on with our Massive Open Online Courses. This is something that we worked on with our personal learning environment projects. And this is something that I see a lot of people, both in traditional accredited institutions as well as corporate learning, as well as informal online learning. A lot of people are working on this
According to the UN, more than 156 million students are out of school in Latin America, due to COVID, and even before the pandemic many countries, especially the poorest face the challenge of providing quality digital technologies and the internet for their population. And there are some stats there. How do you think about this digital divide problem.
yeah, it’s a problem.
And it’s not just the digital divide. I mean, if we look worldwide. Water and Sanitation pose a problem, electrification poses a problem. You know, access to information generally poses a problem. You know access to employment poses a problem. And, of course, access to the internet and digital technologies poses a problem. And the distribution of these around equal around the world. That’s a fact, that’s easily demonstrable. And we can say well sure it’s been getting better over the years, and in some ways it has, and in some ways it hasn’t. I mean, it you know to look at it cynically, you know, 30 years ago, shall we say, there was no digital divide, because there was no digital to begin with. So, you know, we can say well geez in the last 30 years, the digital divide, has greatly expanded.
And it’s true.
But it’s you know it’s just one phenomenon, out of these many phenomena. And it comes down to a willingness to accept that. This is a priority. The, you know, what do I want to call it the world economic order. Whenever has not seen this as a priority over the last century, over the last millennium. For the most part, the primary occupation of the wealthier countries has to become more wealthy. And that’s true even to this day. And that has a lot of perspective that has a lot of sympathy, in wealthy countries. And it’s not something that can be changed. Simply by pointing out that the current order is unjust and simply by pointing out that you know 156 million students are out of school.
I wish it could be changed that simply.
So I think that longer term, we need to be thinking about how we restructure the world economic order. Or maybe I’ll call it the world social order perhaps to shift the priorities a bit to one that views, social, political and economic equity around the world. As a rarity. That’s not going to happen. Simply by the creation of a set of rules and principles, that’s only going to happen through an adjustment of the attitudes of the larger bulk of the population and especially the bulk of the population that currently benefits from the disadvantages created in other nations. And that’s going to be a hard sell. And the fact it’s not something that can be solved. It’s something that actually has to be created as a fundamental principle of what it means to be in a society. It has to be one of the core values that a child in any of these countries develops as a part of their education. And that means that there’s not going to be a short term solution to this. That doesn’t mean. Oh, no we’re helpless, obviously, and it does mean that those people who have already adopted that sort of perspective of perspective based on social justice and equity
can begin work on that.
I think that really we address the digital divide. Only by creating an environment for technological and social development that incorporates equity, as its fundamental principle, and definition of progress. So, we don’t measure how far we’ve gone by simple averages. We don’t measure how far we’ve gone by, how much a single individual can earn or create or whatever. But we measure it by what all of us, each of us, including the least of us is able to do a measure of their capacity to enjoy the benefits of society where one of those benefits is
access to digital technology.
So it goes back to governments and organizations, mine here in Canada and yours in Brazil and elsewhere. Identifying social equity and social justice as priorities, and making these key policy priorities. I wish I had a simpler, more direct answer, but I don’t. And in the meantime, what I will keep doing is trying to create an educational system, including educational technology that is based on and incorporates, and has as an outcome, ongoing support for social justice and equity.
Canada has a tradition in distance education. Can you mention one or more concrete examples of how Canada. In the last decades has been able to expand this model of distance learning. This model of distance learning, not marvel of distance learning. I’m experimenting, Just so you know, with software called otter, ay, ay. and it is doing a terrific job, I must say. Although it has its moments.
dang you know the development of AI is probably one of those key things, you know, a lot of the major developments in artificial intelligence and related technologies originated in Canada. You know everything from elements of the Semantic Web, like XML, to the pioneering work done by people like Donald Hebb psychologist and Geoffrey Hinton and neural networks.
These are things that
are having have had I’m having an enormous impact on online learning and we don’t feel it quite yet. Although if you’re right yeah speaking my answers, and having them typed out automatically by an artificial intelligence and I think that’s pretty incredible. You know, we in Canada, don’t have a national system. So a lot of our initiatives have been local or have been provincial. Education is a provincial responsibility in Canada. And our educational systems are organized differently in each province.
We have things like
bc campus in British Columbia, and II campus, Ontario. In Ontario. And these are the latest in a series of provincial initiatives, over the years that have supported and expanded online and distance learning. I’m thinking of the Open Learning Academy. Oh la in British Columbia many years ago. There’s 10 look in Quebec Tila tele University in Quebec. Contact north, which I’ve worked on and off with over the years is a baska University, which is Canada’s Open University. So these organizational initiatives have all played a role in promoting open access to learning to developing learning technology to pioneering new ways of creating and distributing online resources to thinking about pedagogical changes, ie all the work by garrison Anderson and trying to remember this. Oh, Walter richer. You know this was supported by places like contact NASA NASA masking University and and other places. I wish otter AI knew hacer baska, it doesn’t, it comes out differently, each time at h a be a sec a ASSA baska.
I’m trying to train it. Well
In terms of pedagogy and learning theory. Canada was home to
many constructivist initiatives
and progressive learning. I in fact was one of the beneficiaries of that in the 1970s.
I experienced, things like
elective classrooms, open concept learning, small classes and and many other things that were being tried for the first time. And I think some of them worked. I’d like to think some of them worked in my own work. I’ve touched on a number of areas that people across Canada have been working on in the way of expanding distance education, beginning with computer graphics in the 1990s with Arthur baska continuing through learning management systems, which we developed in Manitoba. In the late 1990s to online learning portals, which I worked on with the University of Alberta, in the 2000s. And then more recently as most people know the work that was done to create the massive open online course, which, to my mind, had a permanent impact the normalization of the idea of free and open online learning courses and content. And of course, my colleague, George Siemens. And I worked on the philosophy of connectivism. And this is something that’s based in the work of people like Hinton and many others also people like Paul and Patricia churchland, who were based in Manitoba.
And, as well.
I mean there are many influences so
And many of the first learning management systems were developed in Canada and originally Web CT, for example, desire to learn, which is a major learning management system today is developed in Canada.
I think that if I had to summarize the contribution Canada has made over the years has been to make learning more students centered,
more affordable and more accessible and more democratic, in the sense that learning is governed by learners themselves by the community in which they live. And by the community of communities across the country. And I think all of these have together had as an outcome, a greater capability on the part of people who have benefited from this kind of learning to be more self directed more resilient, more capable and more knowledgeable. And, you know, I look at the reaction of Canadians, and even our governments. During this pandemic. And I think that pretty much our system of learning has proven itself very effective, where the population as a whole is, you know, working with and listening to the scientific community, making decisions, mostly reasonably and responsibly, and has an understanding that, you know, during a case like this. The primary responsibility of government and of society is to make sure that all people are protected and all people are made as secure as possible. And that I think is a good outcome. I don’t know if that answered the question, but that’s what I got.
Okay. Question six.
Distance Education has
become a very profitable business in recent years, large educational groups profit millions of dollars by offering online courses in Brazil. Many most distance education courses are offered by private institutions and are aimed at teacher training. However, there is little regulation of this market at least in Brazil. So, how to control and regulate this market in order to guarantee the quality of the courses.
I think that
I mean there are two options here. One option is to maintain the private system and attempt to regulate it. The other is to ensure that quality resources and quality learning opportunities are made available as a public service.
I favor the second option.
I favor the option where
the government, which, after all works on behalf of the people. works with the best people in the field or, you know, I shouldn’t say the best works with capable people in the field. Because a lot of people are needed to create learning opportunities that are high quality and support, you know, learning, social, economic, and other objectives and have as a goal, not the creation of revenue for a company, but the creation of the Society for everyone. Now, a lot of people say that government is not capable of doing this. Certainly, there are cases where government has failed.
But, in general,
We find when government
produces or manages an educational system, the outcomes are much better and much more equitable than when it is managed by a private institution. And there are many reasons for this private institutions cut corners, private institutions, choose to serve the population that produces the most revenue. So, you know, other rich people,
work in consortia in order to increase the price and private institutions. If they are working in education. Specifically, often have
and and not you know the the betterment of the individual and the improvements of the entire society.
And that’s why they need to be regulated right.
We know that if we did not regulate the private sector in education, that we would have nothing but problems. We see in other industries where if regulation is not sufficient, that the quality and indeed even the safety of the product decreases. And that’s something we can’t actually afford to have in education. We, in our food industry which is private almost completely. There has to be a comprehensive system of regulation. In order to ensure that the population is not poisoned by the food supply. During the coronavirus crisis we’ve had issues with retirement homes that are privately run, and where safety was disregarded, and where dozens of people died as a result.
what people forget when they’re thinking about, you know, private industry being more efficient, or more effective, is that there is a substantial cost and a substantial infrastructure required to create this regulatory oversight. And there is a constant battle to ensure that this regulatory oversight remains in place, because there’s always the insistence on the part of the private companies that this regulatory oversight is just bureaucracy and red tape, and really should be minimized as much as possible.
And, yeah, I want to minimize red tape too.
But, you know, like I said earlier, it comes back to priorities, what are the priorities. And if the priority is
And, you know, individual resilience and safety and security for children and students.
a regulatory environment is probably not going to be sufficient.
So that’s one thing.
I have a preference toward trying to provide the services through public provision, where the providers are accountable through the electoral system, and where the provision of quality is maintained throughout. The other thing is to help individuals. Oh,
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Okay here we go again.
Okay, so I just had that brief interruption the free version of otter.ai is limited to 40 minutes, I have been speaking for 40 minutes, and. Okay, so I can see one potential weakness of such a system.
Mike and ended up speaking for 40 minutes.
So anyhow. The second thing is we need to help students be resilient.
I know that’s the word of the day, to make sure that they’re not able to be ripped off by course providers.
So the government content gives them an option to avoid that. You know the other government provision of educational resources.
You know create an alternative to the providers to the private providers forces the prices down forces the qualities up the quality up.
But at the same time, so long as there are private providers and there probably always will be. We need to enable individuals to be able to navigate this marketplace. And it’s a lot like being able to navigate say the news marketplace, or or the advertising marketplace where people are trying to sell you various other goods.
And you need skills like critical thinking.
Basic reasoning mathematics helps the fundamentals of statistics.
I once wrote an article things you really need to learn, which covered some of these basics, you know, everything from learning how to predict consequences to learning how to value yourself.
And all of these things are good things to learn just in and of themselves.
But these sorts of things are also needed in order to give yourself a fighting chance against people who want to rip you off.
A lot of them are just common sense. But you know, common sense has to, at some point, be something that we teach people, because people aren’t just born with it.
Last but not least, to what extent is technology the solution to education problems. And, well, let’s finish on a short and easy question, shall we.
It’s hard to say that technology, in and of itself is the solution to anything. Right.
Technology without a use, and without a user is just inert may as well be a stone. Fact stone was a technology at one point.
So, you know, technology by itself isn’t the solution to anything.
On the other hand, we have infinite philosophy, and in science generally this concept of necessary and sufficient conditions.
And when I say technological tech. Try that again. When I say that technologically by itself isn’t the solution to anything. What I’m saying is that technology by itself is not a sufficient condition for education problems for a solution.
And there’s another way of looking at it right. And that is to ask is technology, a necessary condition for the solution to educational problems.
And I’m going to argue that it is, and I’m going to argue that it is on economic grounds. And this is an argument that goes back many years. It’s not original to me by any means. I first heard it from the former chancellor of the Open University, whose name escapes me at the moment.
See if I remember it in a few seconds.
Sir john Daniel.
It’s tricky doing these things live.
You have to have everything at the top of your head, and his argument basically was there is not enough money in the world to provide traditional education from kindergarten through to the end of university to everybody, or even close to everybody.
Think about how many millions of universities, would be needed, maybe hundreds of thousands of universities, I’m sure, to serve a population of seven or 8. billion people.
You know, people don’t run the numbers.
We said above that, you know, the digital divide is a question of priorities.
Another aspect to this question of priorities is what constitutes an education, what constitutes quality education. What does the solution to problems of education look like. And a lot of people say well the only possible the only proper solution to issues involving education is one where you have a human teacher for children.
A human teacher for say each class of. Oh, I don’t know, 30, to many maybe 20 students. And so, okay that’s a means that one out of every 20, people need to be teachers maybe because learning is lifelong now.
What does it take to produce that many that many teachers, one out of 20 is 5% What’s 5% of 7 billion people.
What are the salaries of 5% of 7, million people.
You know, you suddenly looking at astronomical numbers.
And if you could provide an education bracket. When we haven’t defined that just what we mean by that yet close bracket.
If you could provide an education.
Using technology that requires a fraction of the number of people provide it.
Then you are much further advanced in providing education for all.
You know I often have observed that the arguments in favor of quote unquote quality education.
All right, the same time, arguments against accessible education.
Because the higher quality you make it, the more expensive, you make it. The less accessible it is.
So we have to be looking to technology, not simply to replace people because that’s not the best way of looking at it.
But as a way of making each individual able to provide more learning for more people, and a higher quality.
And, yeah, that’s not a simple thing to do.
And nobody thinks it will be done overnight, but to say that something like that would be impossible I think is wrong.
And to say that technology would play no role in providing a quality education for every one of the 7 billion people or more on the planet would be ludicrous. I mean, you can’t contemplate providing all the learning that all the people need on earth without technology.
So, I see this as a pretty simple question to answer.
You know, it’s like asking, to what extent is technology the solution to the problem of hunger.
Well, you actually can’t feed people all people without technology, it’s a necessary condition to address the problem of hunger.
And then we can debate about, you know, what kind of technology works you know in.
In the case of food production was the Green Revolution, that technology, innovation that we needed.
Were hybrid seeds the innovation that we needed.
You know, golden rice, for example, is advanced fertilization what we needed is advanced irrigation what we needed reclamation of desert or otherwise unproductive land, new crops, new, new crop genetics like canola.
You know, you can’t really measure.
I suppose you could which you can, it’s not a productive enterprise to measure how important one or another of these was or how you know to what extent, any one of these are evil all of these together alleviated hunger.
But we know that they were necessary to do so to the extent that we’ve done so.
And the same will be in the case of online learning.
Simple example, real learning resource production today is a multi billion dollar industry.
You know here I’m thinking of things like text books course packages recorded lectures online courses, all of that across primary, secondary University and corporate learning multibillion dollar industry.
We are very close. At this point, to having artificial intelligence technology that can produce these resources automatically on an as needed basis.
I mean, right now this AI here is typing out my stuff for me so I don’t have to do it. I think that’s so wonderful.
And eventually, it can just take what I know. You know, maybe summarize all of the all of the verbal input audio and put on I’ve given it and maybe pictures that I’ve drawn whenever I’ve written over the years. And just automatically create little resource packages. You know, the thought of Stephen Downes, or whenever.
And all of a sudden, you know, we’ve created a mechanism to automatically save billions of dollars in the provision of education for everyone.
It would be crazy not to use technology to do that.
There would be a great deal of resistance to it, not the least from the people and the companies that are making billions of dollars off of worldwide demand for an education.
And so it comes down to priorities again right what’s more important, making sure everybody has an education or making sure that these companies survive.
What’s more important that we support high level elite universities, or that we apply all of the technology that we have to ensure that everybody in the world is able to read to write to reason. Both logically and mathematically, etc.
To me that’s true it’s pretty obvious. You know, to me, using technology in order to make education more accessible and higher quality for people is a no brainer.
And that you use it where you can.
People say a lot well you can’t have technology, driving the pedagogy. Yeah, tell us, to an extent that’s true.
We as humans are the ones who will determine what the outcome is what the objective is what the goal is.
What we’re trying to do with education.
But, once we’ve made those decisions.
Does it matter whether humans or technology drive the pedagogy are humans automatically going to have the best right answer.
You know, we already know that in human versus AI games.
The AI often wins
in areas of creativity as in artificial intelligence generated music or text or poems, or whatever.
Right now the AI creations aren’t very good but through getting better. We can easily imagine one that’s better than one human created.
So at a certain point in AI pedagogy might be better than money can create.
You know, if you want to learn something just let the AI, take over. It knows who you are, it knows what you’ve done it knows what you’re capable of. And it can pick from the most effective, and most reasonably priced resources and run you through your paces and you’re able to learn.
That’s a really good objective to work for.
And yeah, I mean, we need what they call the human in the loop to make sure that this is safe, effective and ethical.
But at the same time, if we take seriously the question of education for every one of seven or 8 billion people, then we have to be looking at technology, and a fairly extensive application of technology, just as we have applied it in every other discipline in which we work.
Okay, that’s my answers to the questions. It’s been an hour, so it makes pretty good podcast to maybe, I don’t know.
So I’ll send you this, and I’ll also post it on my website because that’s what I do. And let’s see what you make out of it.
nice talking to you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai