Can online classrooms help the developing world catch up?

18 Feb

By Adi Robertson, guest editor Bill Gates

We’re excited to have Bill Gates as our guest editor in February. Throughout the month, Bill will be sharing his vision of how technology will revolutionize life for the world’s poor by 2030 by narrating episodes of the Big Future, our animated explainer series. In addition, we’ll be publishing a series of features exploring the improvements in banking, health, farming, and education that will enable that revolution. And while the topics reflect the bets Bill and his wife Melinda are making with their foundation, they’ve asked us for nothing less than fully independent Verge journalism, which we’re more than happy to deliver. Turns out Bill Gates is a pretty confident guy.

Nilay Patel, Editor-in-Chief

In 2012, a 15-year-old named Battushig Myanganbayar aced a circuits and electronics course designed for sophomores at MIT — from his school in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Myanganbayar had watched lectures in English, a second language, and worked through the course material online with the help of a visiting Stanford Ph.D. candidate, Tony Kim. “If Battushig, at the age of 15, were a student at MIT, he would be one of the top students — if not the top,” Kim told The New York Times. In fact, Myanganbayar went on to MIT a year later — crediting the online course as a “watershed” moment.

Myanganbayar’s success is a testament to the power of online educational programs: thanks to revolutionary technology, a prodigious student has access to the education of his dreams. Today, Myanganbayar is even working with edX, the Harvard-MIT joint partnership behind the original course he took from Mongolia, to improve the experience for future students. Behind the student’s story, though, is a larger question: can online classes be used to help not just a few exceptional students, but the developing world at large?

In his foundation’s 2015 annual letter, Bill Gates describes a future in which world-class education is only a few taps away, for anyone in the world. “Before a child even starts primary school, she will be able to use her mom’s smartphone to learn her numbers and letters, giving her a big head start,” he speculates. “Software will be able to see when she’s having trouble with the material and adjust for her pace. She will collaborate with teachers and other students in a much richer way.” Career paths, Gates speculates, will be built into this new education system — students will be able to lift themselves out of poverty by figuring out the requirements for their chosen field and fulfilling them with online classes. And software will connect students to distant teachers and each other.

While the concept of remote learning is as old as correspondence courses, today it’s often discussed in the context of massively open online courses, or MOOCs. Organized by companies, universities, and nonprofits, MOOCs provide education in the form of online lectures, quizzes, and projects, allowing large numbers of students to learn at a flexible pace.

[ Full article available at The Verge: ]

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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Best Practices, MOOCs in the News


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