The World Is Our Classroom: From Distance Learning To Close Learning
The World Is Our Classroom: From Distance Learning To Close Learning
Future Scenario

The World Is Our Classroom: From Distance Learning To Close Learning

Researcher

Beatrys Fernandes Rodrigues

image

Akshay Nanavati @ Unsplash

Join us in imagining futures that promise to disrupt distance learning. Guided by the perspective of fostering closeness, this future scenario contemplates different pedagogical approaches. These approaches consider the needs of marginalized groups and who have been excluded by default in most mainstream learning methods.
Join us in imagining futures that promise to disrupt distance learning. Guided by the perspective of fostering closeness, this future scenario contemplates different pedagogical approaches. These approaches consider the needs of marginalized groups and who have been excluded by default in most mainstream learning methods.

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Thirty years from now, nine billion people will be connected to the internet. A mix of high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech solutions will provide contextual education, diminishing digital divides. Life-long learning will be hyper-personalized for individuals using a mix of collaborative methods in offline and online networks. The close-learning approach will emerge, even though distances will still challenge communities outside the grid.

If you are reading this text from a computer or your cell phone, you have probably had an experience with distance learning in your life. But you probably also studied at a "brick-and-mortar" school, where your physical presence and exchanges with your teacher were paramount to your learning. You may have felt the struggles and advantages of both, and so did educators around the world.

Inspired by more communal and non-linear ways of creating and ideating educational content, in the future, a more intersectional pedagogical approach will emerge. Within this vision for future educational experiences, "distance," will not feature as educational actors will place increased attention on generating pedagogical content in close encounters instead of expanding the gap imposed by distance.

Accordingly, the concept of close learning emerges as a speculative educational approach that consolidates different technologies to create pedagogical experiences which are highly personalized, contextual, and critical of current structures of power.

A Look Into The Past: Inequalities Of Access

Online learning has provided educational opportunities for many who did not have the finances, time, or could not commute to traditional institutions, such as schools, universities, etc.

Despite this apparent limitless access to educational content provided by online resources, we must not forget that half of the world's population still does not have access to the internet. Even though worldwide internet adoption increased considerably in recent years, studies estimate that 90% of the world's students experience obstacles while changing to remote learning or, in most extreme cases, did not have access to school if the only available option was through online learning. After the Covid-19 school closures, the education of  1.4 billion children was halted or disrupted in ways that had long-lasting effects, notably for girls and young women.

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Yasmim Seadi @ Envisioning

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Yasmim Seadi @ Envisioning

Women and girls, even though configuring the majority of the world's population, have significantly lower digital participation in comparison to men. Even in high digitized countries, where students and educators have reliable access to information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and household connectivity, inequalities arise when acknowledging intersectional issues, such as racism and sexism.

Globally, girls tend to use fewer digital services than boys and are less confident when using computers and smartphones. This subsequently leads them to be more digital illiterate, and understand less how to safeguard their information. A UNESCO report showcases that women were 1.6 times more likely than men to report a lack of skills as a barrier to internet use. These difficulties, construed by cultural factors, are interconnected with the stereotypical roles given to girls, who historically have been excluded from education to focus on family caring and have been disfavored by educational norms ‚ÄĒmainly based on boys' capacity skills. The barriers preventing girls from obtaining the benefits of distance learning are structural, and are ultimately the same barriers that exclude them from education systems in general.

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Yasmim Seadi @ Envisioning

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Yasmim Seadi @ Envisioning

By recognizing educational access discrepancies across gender, race, and social classes, we can take the first step towards fostering closeness and ultimately achieving more equitable learning.

After struggling with difficulties regarding distance learning, nations worldwide considered how they could tackle the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, including the increased inequalities among children. In about 30 years from now, these disruptions are expected to fuel educational perspectives that understand learning as a lifelong process and shared responsibility. Learning approaches that depend on community-building and understand the different needs and desires, and are capable of compiling a multitude of futures that include children with different experiences and cultural realities.

Every Time, Everywhere, Everyone: Breaking School Boundaries

Children learning through online resources

Ralston Smith @ Unsplash

Children learning through online resources

Ralston Smith @ Unsplash

Learning should not be bound by walls. For many years, lack of access to schools hindered millions of students from learning, especially rural and remote communities affected by mobility issues, such as long distances and the absence of public transportation. Even in big cities, commuting to school may take hours, which is why a few decades from now, private and public schools and universities will start to "decentralize" their spaces.

Decentralized learning focuses on expanding the availability of learning spaces, both digital and physical. It will be challenging, mostly due to a lack of investment in this trend and accelerating population growth.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, hybrid courses that teach online but include some physical spaces, such as libraries or assessment sites, had multiplied. For example, The University of New York leased a WeWork space for students with travel restrictions in Shanghai, thus decentralizing access to learning to international students. This decentralization trend could lead to a spread of 24/7 satellite learning hubs, which are spaces institutions are using for their students to utilize for schooling. In respect of women, more decentralized education models are particularly beneficial, as they have been primarily responsible for duties such as child caring or housework, which bound them to home and consequently restrict their timeframes for learning.

Adapting to Needs

Collaborative learning spaces will likely spread in the following years. The emergence of gender-aware policies, such as the Maternity Benefit Act in India that requires companies with more than 50 employees to set up creche facilities, will birth educational settings that include reproductive rights in their models. Accordingly, high schools and universities will potentially start offering nursery and primary education, which will likely benefit students that are mothers, especially younger ones. These familial facilities will blur the boundaries between school grades as we know them today.

Beyond physical facilities, fostering closeness will also be better achieved through devices providing immersive experiences. In 2021, platforms offering classes with Artificial Intelligence (AI) inputs, live tutoring, and apps supporting homework such as Yuantiku, were adopted by millions of students. This growth in adoption is often related to the fact that these digital solutions offer new learning approaches capable of adapting to users' needs.

Applications employing Natural Language Processing (NLP), for example, can change words in texts or offer alternative exercises depending on users' capacity skills. Pedagogical materials powered by AI can be adjusted to match the students' profile and culture, which can help women and girls to continue learning through personalized coursework that matches their interests. Inspired by crowdsourced examples such as the Wikipedia Education Program, next-generation platforms can invite different people to contribute to their content, capturing minorities' perspectives and disrupting knowledge monopolies. As more people utilize these apps, new players will enter the educational market in the coming years. This will lead to competition and innovation, especially in low-end groups.

Avatars

Asobo Studio

Avatars

Asobo Studio

One Step Beyond Digital: Artificial

As shown by research with children's books, gender representation can impact career choices. Artificial humans ‚ÄĒsometimes referred to as avatars‚ÄĒ that mimic users' physical appearance, cultural attire, and typical gestures could deliver talks in webinars and video lectures. These avatars could also be used to inspire the next generation of women, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) as these human-like avatars could help girls feel more represented through female characters. This could encourage and increase the likelihood of girls participating in both educational and professional environments.

Closing Digital Divides

In the coming decades, internet connection is expected to become a constitutional right. If this happens, zero-rate platforms will be paramount to learning. Zero-rating is a policy that allows access to certain apps or websites without imposing financial costs or data allowances, normally intermediated by telecommunication companies. Amid the pandemic, South Africa's Telkom zero-rated numerous educational websites, helping students to continue their learning. Actions such as these, together with public and private sectors to provide connectivity, are imperative to connect the disconnected and engage the most vulnerable social categories in the digital space. For women and girls, who have limited access to funds or are not working, access to free content without selling their data or being exposed to unwanted advertisements can promote digital autonomy.

One example is Kolibri, an open-source platform that allows refugees and rural students to access content without requiring connectivity. Kolibri enables students to download content when they have internet access and share them with other devices, even offline. These sharing protocols can become more widespread once programmers are aware of the difficulties encountered by marginalized communities, which is a considerable constraint as most programmers do not consider realities beyond Western society.

One of the critical points to bridge digital divides is to assist people in becoming more engaged in constructing their own solutions. On the other hand, copyright policies are becoming easier to enforce using intelligent algorithms, which will most likely weaken open-source repositories. This struggle can increase the gap between men and women regarding research and development. Therefore, we need to think beyond digital technology to reduce educational disparities.

High-Tech, Low-Tech, No-Tech

Kids using Goggles

stem.T4L @ Unsplash

Kids using Goggles

stem.T4L @ Unsplash

Research from the Center for Global Development reports that relying solely on technology can exacerbate learning inequalities. The research shows that recent private-public partnerships harnessing the possibilities of high-tech, low-tech, and even no-tech options could help assist communities in accessing education during the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, autonomous study groups detached from school environments emerged, where both students and teachers learn from alternative inputs beyond official learning content.

By keeping in mind the differences in technology access and digital literacy skills, hybrid forms of learning offering various ICT options are integral for building personalized learning environments. For example, The English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) in Nepal utilizes radio broadcasting, pre-loaded SD cards with content, paper worksheets, and national television programs to teach English and gender equality.

Considering that some people will still have no access to the internet, a quieter revolution will fuel epistemological changes in the teacher/student hierarchy. According to Paulo Freire in the Pedagogy of The Oppressed, "education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.‚ÄĚ

By breaking down the hierarchies between students and teachers, pupils of every age can feel empowered to share their experiences, and teachers can learn from their student's realities to tailor educational content.

Rethinking Curriculums

One of the first steps to alleviate the disparities among women and girls in distance learning is by securing women's digital privacy rights and taking a feminist standpoint to advocate for internet freedoms and protections.

By 2055, the internet may be a safer place. Cyberfeminists could develop free automated encryption software aware of the specific sensitive information that women should protect. An AI-generated software could not only disguise their data but also denounce to newly created digital law enforcement those who are practicing cyberbullying, gender-based violence, and harassment. Also, blockchain protocols could protect women's content from illegal distribution, making it easier to find abusers who have misused anything shared online.

However, there are other challenges too. Structural changes in technological development should focus on incorporating curriculums that teach the dangers of digital violence: violence prevention depends on progressive efforts that rely on consistent teaching. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, gender-based violence increased. As a solution, many educators decided to draw responses that teach men and boys to take action when encountering digital violence against women. Beyond that, Smart Contracts in the Blockchain could stipulate immutable parameters that reward activists automatically when acting against online harassment.

The World Becomes Our Classroom

Activating surface interactive game

MIT Senseable City Lab

Activating surface interactive game

MIT Senseable City Lab

What if a city is embedded with knowledge?¬†A place featuring data about its history, its people, its culture? With QR codes placed at every corner in a city, users could access information through smartphones or XR Glasses about that particular place ‚ÄĒa house where a known artist was born, for example.¬†Every¬†step could turn into a walk through a collaborative living encyclopedia,¬†built and interconnected by the people who frequent these spaces.

This scenario may not be news for citizens living in megalopolises, who are already used to actionable content distributed throughout the city, but in small communities, this could become an opportunity for education and development. In a publication released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Senseable City Lab (SCL), students created concepts for a park where an electronic ink board allows residents to ideate with each other in the public space. Besides generating content that residents can interact with, these could allow communities to personalize their learning. By supporting different technological usages, individuals could contextualize their education based on local and regional inputs, adapting pedagogical practices to their own needs and problems.

In the following decades, solutions will emerge for those that do not have access to smartphones or augmented reality devices to enjoy the virtual layer that has been collaboratively developed. Itinerary school stations are a great example. This business model could bring desired educational experiences for rural communities or vulnerable areas where transportation infrastructure is limited or almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, governments could utilize interactions with the digital information layered throughout the city to become more aware of their population's needs. When an individual accesses particular content, a government could receive a notification through crowd-platforms of the most accessed information. This could help build communal multi-purpose spaces that can adjust to users' responses.

Though cultural norms dictate individuals' ability to utilize technology in many social spaces, in a close educational community, people could self-organize and strategize novel ways to promote better educational practices. Individuals could navigate different learning environments, depending on their own needs, technology literacy, and access to traditional educational institutions. Evolving discussions could transform education into a life-long enterprise of every stakeholder. Partnerships among the private and public sectors could allow decisions taken by citizens of all ages to be applied directly to the infrastructure of cities and villages.

Hopefully, the ideas mentioned throughout this future scenario will not remain as speculative ones. Education could one day become a co-creative endeavor between learners and teachers, one in which learning would depend on community-building and collective understanding of different needs and desires. Perhaps, by putting together the solutions hereby presented, we could foresee infinite futures, where each individual can feel empowered to create their own.

8 topics
Decentralization & Local Governance
Education
Employment and Labour Markets
Gender Equality
Higher Education
Human Rights
Regional and Sectoral Economic Development
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
8 SDGs
03 Good Health and Well-Being
04 Quality Education
05 Gender Equality
08 Decent Work and Economic Growth
09 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10 Reduce inequalities
16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
17 Partnerships for the Goals

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8 topics
  • Decentralization & Local Governance
  • Education
  • Employment and Labour Markets
  • Gender Equality
  • Higher Education
  • Human Rights
  • Regional and Sectoral Economic Development
  • Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
8 SDGs
  • 03 Good Health and Well-Being
  • 04 Quality Education
  • 05 Gender Equality
  • 08 Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 09 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • 10 Reduce inequalities
  • 16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • 17 Partnerships for the Goals