Online learning is 'the blackboard of the future'

From nursery years onwards, education is to undergo a computer-driven revolution, technology expert tells ministers

Children in nurseries will soon be learning through Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses) as the internet revolution changes the face of learning, according to the man who first pioneered their use in higher education. Today's two- and three-year-olds have been born with keyboards "pinned to their fingers", Dr Anant Agarwal, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, insists. As a result, it makes sense to utilise the skills they had acquired and give them a basic start to literacy and numeracy through computer games in the kindergarten or nursery schools.

"Two- and three-year-olds love video games and they're able to play with iPads – all they have to do is wipe their fingers over the keyboard," he said. "That's happening already in the home and it would be really fun for them to use those skills in the kindergarten," Dr Agarwal, told a seminar organised by the Education Foundation, an education think-tank, during a whistlestop UK tour.

His visit includes talks with MPs, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and universities minister David Willetts on how Moocs can transform education.

He was speaking amid growing scepticism over the impact that Moocs could have on higher education. In an article in Times Higher Education, Diana Laurilland, of London University's Institute of Education, argued that unsupervised learning online was not the answer. "Free online courses that require no qualifications or fee are a wonderful idea, but not viable," she said. Take-up of the idea in the UK had been slower than expected, academics have also argued.

However, Dr Agarwal, said a "blended" approach – combining first-time higher education students and providing additional resource material for those already at university will turn them into a success story. He has pioneered Moocs – setting up a programme through an MIT/Harvard-based company edX, of which he is president. It has now been snapped up by 1.8 million learners worldwide and offers courses which can end with the learner gaining a certificate validated by an Ivy League university in the US (MIT or Harvard) to boost career prospects.

Education, he claims, had been slow to embrace new technology. "Transportation has changed completely from the 1600s – from ox carts and carriages to rocket ships... [but] education has not changed really since the introduction of the text book. Even that – and the introduction of the blackboard in 1862 – had been controversial, as folk worried about the monks being put out of business.... The blackboard was criticised because it meant teachers had to turn their back on a class, thus threatening classroom discipline."

Education's time has come, though, and it will be unrecognisable within 10 years, he predicts – not at the expense of lecturers' jobs, but simply by changing the way students on degree courses learn as well as by attracting a new online audience.

Dr Agarwal said research shows the average student's attention span is six minutes and, when faced with a lengthy lecture, that goes down to only two minutes. Yet the average lecture in a UK university can last from 50 minutes to two hours.

Use of Moocs had significantly cut the number of letters sent out by universities to students in danger of falling behind, it is claimed. One university had reduced the number of such warnings to students from 50 to only two over a two-year period after the introduction of Moocs. Another saw a 41 per cent failure rate cut to nine per cent.

"Our main aim is to increase access to learning," said Dr Agarwal. He acknowledged Moocs were "slow to get on in the UK", but added: "My message would be to try them out and, if you don't like them, flush them down the Thames."

The Open University has led the way, he said. Some of his audience spoke of the reluctance of teachers and lecturers to embrace them and feared that OU students would now be better equipped to make use of them than others.

Dr Agarwal's visit coincides with the OU's second course on its new social learning platform FutureLearn, which will enable students to study the moons of our solar system. "The course provides answers for those who want to know more about moons and may perhaps spark further learning of planetary science and astronomy," said Professor Alan Rothery, who is leading the programme.

Dr Agarwal concludes: "If teachers don't embrace it [Moocs], there is no hope of going anywhere... this is the world that today's children are being brought up in. The UK has some of the greatest universities in the world and I am interested in inviting them to join this experiment. The whole movement is less than two years old, and for those universities who have started on it, these are very, very early days."

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

**Science Teacher Urgently Required for September**

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice