At TEDxSPSU – Part Six

TEDxSPSU was held on March 12, 2011 at Sir Padampat Singhania University, Udaipur, India, with the theme Order from Chaos. This series of posts are what my TEDx presentation was based on. This is the last part – Part Six.


Meeting scale with scale means leveraging the diversity, passion and insights of a very large number of people to solve a very large problem.

This means we need to move some of our focus from hierarchies and ordered structures to open and distributed networks.

My concept of learning would be analogous to drinking at a giant watering hole. It’s having all sorts of people and resources coming together to spark off conversations, not unlike this TED conference, united around a common theme. Except that there is no single watering hole or TED conference that I could point to as being the site for learning.

It’s chaotic, it’s messy and it requires an altogether different set of skills to navigate – skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, reflection, communication and adaptability, rather than rote learning and subservience to the exam. Sort of like the real world.

We think personalizing the learning experience is tough, if not impossible. We think scale is impossible to solve without orderly structures. But perhaps it is possible to leverage both personal learning experiences and the enormous scale itself to find someone who teaches or learns the way you do or aspire to do.

I call this, not un-ambiguously but rather simply, Network Based Training or NBT. My belief is that we are moving to a new evolution in online learning just like we moved from a CBT to a WBT with the advent of the world wide web.

The NBT is a way to network people and resources around a learning topic. No one theme or person or resource or process of learning is supreme. Unlike a WBT, which is individual and generic, the NBT operates in a networked and personalized context. Unlike a WBT which is visually and instructionally programmed for an assumed closed context, the NBT is open, distributed and rich in diversity. Unlike a WBT which is built for predictability, the NBT is built for encouraging complex behaviors required for learning.

We need to go local and global. These networks will be local, seeded by local communities, their skills and needs, at the same time be federated to align with regional and national goals and connected with a global environment. We need to allow these networks to self-organize and self-regulate. Instead of funding centralized initiatives, we need to fund and empower local initiatives.

Instead of building cadres of educational bureaucrats and technocrats to staff superstructures, we need to invest in building an Architecture of Participation across these networks so that they are equipped to take decisions about how education should be.

We need to build multiple paths to specializations allowing our children to learn at their pace and for the needs of their communities and disciplines.

And really importantly, we need to reduce the amount of content we use in our classrooms drastically – shift focus a bit to the experience from just the knowledge – a state of learning to be rather than learning to know.

This is a model that will truly democratize education – make it by the people, for the people and of the people.

The model will scale. It will recognize local constraints, indigenous capability and meet the aspirations of local communities. It will be sustainable since it is bottom up instead of top down. It will adapt faster to national planning needs. It will create opportunities for innovation and growth.

And in doing so we will move from a conception of Education as a process to create the learned to a conception of education as a system that fosters learners.

What will this take? Firstly it will take awareness building. Secondly, it will take capability building (not only leadership for the community, but also the vital skills deemed fit to make education a high quality practice). Thirdly, it will take creation of formal structures or spaces where communities can be seeded and supported. Fourthly, it will take a shift of control and a corresponding alteration of the power structures. Fifthly, it will take the loosening of barriers – legal or procedural – to promote freer flow of resources through the local systems.

Maybe we could evaluate how education could be made a social business.

We need to explore the chaos that can continuously upset the existing desire for order. Hopefully I will be able to see my son, Sambhav, who is 5, taste a bit of this change before it is too late.

I would like to end with a visual that I have come to love. It’s symbolic of many of the things I have talked about today.

The right and the wrong answer

I rest my case.

<< Part 5

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