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Future of learning: obsolescence of knowledge, return to real teaching

The future of learning is far more than new devices, digital content and online classrooms. It means potentially rewritten relationships between students and information, teachers and instruction, and schools and society.

In a short documentary released Tuesday, telecom giant Ericsson (s ERIC) pulls together observations from leading voices in education technology and entrepreneurship to give a high-level snapshot of what the future of education could look like and how technology is leading it there.

The 20-minute film, called the Future of Learning, which is part of the company’s ongoing Networked Society project, is particularly timely given the momentum behind online education platforms like Khan Academy and Coursera, adaptive learning technology from Knewton and the transition to digital textbooks.

It includes commentary from Knewton founder and CEO Jose Ferreira and Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller explaining how their startups are shaping the new world of education. But it also draws out broader insights from thought leaders like author Seth Godin and academic Stephen Heppell, as well as input from leaders bringing connectivity to villages across Africa.

Ericsson’s corporate interest in celebrating networked education aside, the video does provide a compelling look at how technology is changing the way students learn, as well as what it even means to learn and teach and be educated in the 21st century.

As schools adopt new instructional technology, debate has centered on the changing role of teachers, with critics concerned that online videos and other tools will diminish the role of the teacher. But in the film, Coursera’s Koller says one of the revolutions in education is that teaching will be less about conveying information and more of a return to its original roots where instructors engage in dialogue, develop critical thinking skills and spark passion about a discipline.

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at the UK’s Newcastle University, goes beyond defining the role of the teacher to examining the function of knowledge.

“Knowing something is probably an obsolete idea,” he says in the documentary. “You don’t actually need to know anything. You can find out at the point when you need to know it. It’s the teacher’s jobs to point young minds to the right kind of question. The teacher doesn’t need to give any answers because answers are everywhere.”

You can take a look at the documentary below and view more information on the project here.

Image from VLADGRIN via Shutterstock.

11 Responses to “Future of learning: obsolescence of knowledge, return to real teaching”

  1. Interesting discussion above. It may be that a product such as Knewton is still focused on quantifiable skills and knowledge, rather than hard-to-measure qualitative skills, but it still could have the potential to help in those areas indirectly, by freeing up teachers to use classroom time to spend on imparting writing and critical thinking skills, higher-level discussions about the subject matter, etc. (The idea of personalized learning apps that help students understand their own learning styles and needs better is also intriguing.) That seems to be the idea underlying much of the video, anyway. The technology itself is only part of the equation; we could make thoughtful use of these technologies in ways that really do open up the learning process, or we could use it to reinforce existing patterns, for better or worse.

    • He is Seth Godin, Squidoo founder …

      My personal experience confirms that the famous or “highly reputable” schools are, to an extent, a scam. I ended up a PhD student and TA at one of the famous schools while also being an adjunct at a no name liberal arts school with a low student-teacher ratio and high emphasis on rigour. I have been significantly more impressed by the students at the no name school than at the well known school. Name brand means nothing without good pedagogy.

  2. Peter Osudar

    Knowing something is NOT an obsolete idea!!!
    I want my surgeon to not only know but be an expert at surgery!
    I want my professor to know his subject so that I can ask him something and he can explain it.
    I want my boss to know what is going on and not have to always look it up on his device.

    Like I said knowing is NOT an obsolete idea!

  3. umbrarchist

    Is it the obsolescence of knowledge of the obsolescence of MEMORIZATION?

    Knowledge is required for UNDERSTANDING.

    The trouble is we have lots of people who have memorized stuff and BELIEVE they UNDERSTAND.

  4. Jennifer Santori

    So…I have no need to know anything right now, I need to wait until I know something. And anybody can upload anything to the internet so I have access to everything whenever I need it.

    Except that all the guys in this video fall into the .005 Percent of the human population that are not totally stupid. What are the rest of those morons uploading and representing as facts? If I don’t need to know how to tell fact from fantasy until I need to know, how am I going to look that up in a virtual world filled with crap and have any idea what is what. Oh…wait…I don’t need to know.

    Hell…I posted this and nobody cleared me for internet posting. I just have a Yahoo Account.

    This is more liberal crap that will further ruin our children. We need to teach our children that self worth is based on achievement and continuing to try, even when we fail.

    Those who give up will fail.
    Those who know nothing won’t even know how to start anything.

    When I need to know how to think critically, I’ll just look that up on the internet, as I’m certain that I can learn that in a few minutes. Too bad all those nuns wasted all that time teaching me critical thinking when I was a child.

  5. Reblogged this on it's about learning and commented:
    From a number of educational power-thinkers and get-it-doners, assembled by Ericsson’s Future of Learning project, we can continue to imagine and prototype super learning solutions. (This is the first time I’ve tried re-blogging. Just to make sure – please know that I am reblogging Ki Mae Heussner’s 10.23.12 GigaOM piece.)

  6. bechtol61

    I love this video! This is the way I have been learning recently and I want to share what I have done. I have created a new website called I want to everyone to know it is a new teaching/learning tool in mathematics. It is a great project for Math Teachers to teach the concept of radii much easier. It’s FREE to everyone. How big is the whole in the education system or how round is a CD? So many people I know in the industrial industries must to the book and find the formula to get the radius of a curve, and there is still a margin of error. This new measuring tool lets you do that is seconds and saves time and money. Oh! Did I mention it is FREE, just go to and check it out for yourself.

  7. With the amount of incorrect, erroneous & unreliable information on the internet it would be naive to imagine that what we need to know is at our fingertips.
    Qualifying information sources becomes more important, because we are subject to all sorts of unknown sources pushing their line.
    The debacle over planetary warming shows how minds can be hijacked by the promulgation of mistruths and half truths.
    The role of critical thinking becomes crucial, and an education in The Classics provides a good foundation for that.

    • I agree completely.

      In fact, I would take as evidence of well developed critical thinking capacities the ability to see through all this empty rhetoric.

      I mean, look at the examples of Knewton, they are all true/false, multiple choice type questions and math problems – which is great if you want to convert learning models to an algorithm, but how do you quantify critical thinking? How do you evaluate the quality of research, argumentation, or writing? It’s presented as such a complex and nuanced approach to education, but underpinning it are the most simplistic and arguably even pedagogically outdated models for evaluating learning outcomes.

      And then there are all the vacuous sound bites and historically false claims about how education changes from “pre-printing press” to “post-printing press” and about “how technological revolutions work”.

      There is even the troublesome fact that Ericsson is effectively territorializing the whole concept of the “networked society” without even a nod to the vast literature and research on the very concept that predates this documentary and marketing campaign (not a single citation on their blog). I mean, my goodness, surely someone involved in this Ericsson campaign can do what the “digital natives” idealized in this film supposedly do with their boundless “access to information”, and just Google the term or type it into wikipedia!