5 interesting ways technology is changing the way we learn

by rohit on October 27, 2009

Back at Marketer’s Kaleidoscope after an extended break 🙂

Today’s post : Thanks to technology and the Internet, learning will never be the same again. Here are five interesting changes :

1. Online Videos

Previous posts (see the following series : Teachers’ shortage & Internet’s magic wand – III , Teachers’ shortage & Internet’s magic wand – II , Teachers’ shortage & Internet’s magic wand – I ) highlighted how great teachers have and will almost always be in short supply. And how the Internet can overcome this shortage by putting out videos from the better teachers.  IIT and MIT’s lecture videos were cited as examples.

Here is my current list of favourite video channels for learning:

You Tube Education
NPTEL videos & pdfs of lectures by IIT professors, unlike the MIT Open Course Ware collection below, this is comprehensive, the video of every lecture of every IIT course seems to be in here. This channel must be one of You Tube’s most popular, with 1.5 million views already.
MIT World all the talks held at M.I.T.
Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner talks by top entrepreneurs
MIT’s Open Course Ware
iTunes U Part of the iTunes Store, claims to the world’s largest educational source for audio & video with over 200, 000 titles

These contain great content and are all free. If you are a teacher you should look them up too, you will discover new content and new styles of teaching.

2. Mobile phones & other devices

Smartphones, iPods, netbooks & e-Readers are gaining traction for learning. Since each such device is personalized / portable, it offers rich learning possibilities. Just two of many developments :


In India, SMS Channels such as those of Google India , SMS Gupshup and Netcore provide learning services by subscription. A popular application in the education channel within Google India’s SMS channel is ‘learnawordaday’ : there are 72,000 users. The service is free. An apt use of a mobile phone indeed !  Wonder why the operators like Vodafone and Airtel haven’t moved in this direction.


Texas’s Abilene Christian University is using mobiles in a dramatic manner : it compulsorily allocates an iPhone to each freshman student.

Students use their iPhones or iPod Touches to receive homework alerts, answer  quizzes, get directions to their professors’ offices, etc. There is a mobile portal, ACU Mobile , which connects students to the campus through news, calendars, course documents, guides to local events, restaurants, sports and more.

ACU has a Finance Professor who says he doesn’t have the time to cover all the course material in class: he posts additional material as a podcast.  His podcast, Stewllenium Radio, is enhanced with music and sound effects to make it more entertaining. “My hope is that the playful, over-the-top nature of the show resonates with my students and makes it seem more like entertainment and less like a lecture,” he says.

There is a student newspaper on the mobile. Students themselves are developing iPhone apps. Students have developed an alternate reality game for freshmen to get to know one another.

For the above initiatives ACU this year won an award from the Centre for Digital Education. Here’s more .

Smartphones such as iPods are fine for short learning sessions. For extended use, the best bet i.e. the cheapest option are netbooks. Not sure who is giving them out , colleges usually recommend laptops.

3. Flexbooks

No textbooks but more multimedia – videos & ‘flexbooks’. Governor Schwarznegger has, given the squeeze in California’s finances, mandated the State’s high schools to use electronic textbooks.

One prominent supplier that’s emerged is the non-profit CK-12 , they call their creation flexbooks. Flexbooks are web-based, collaborative books, what I call wiki-books. There’s no reason why this textbook model will not take off elsewhere too e.g. one can conceive of study material for IIT-JEE or IIM-CAT being created by web-based collaboration. It would be superior to what is currently used by any one ‘coaching institute’.

4. Content creation

One learns best, it’s said, not just by passively consuming content e.g. reading, listening or watching but by creating content too. Creativity is a key facet of being educated. However, all through history, tools to create content did not exist or were unaffordable for the common man. Thus, arts like painting and sculpture needed royal patrons , they were expensive pursuits.

Now there are many digital tools, creating content is possible for every individual. Just to name a few: Photoshop, Adobe Flash, WordPress, YouTube, Flickr, Second Life ! What’s more, some of these tools are open source, thus free. My sister in California is an Arts Head for a group of public schools; she has introduced digital arts courses using the  open source alternative to Photoshop, GIMP.

5. Online libraries

Libraries are getting to be ‘digital’. There have been several online only libraries (like Project Gutenberg ). What’s different now is that university and public libraries are ‘going online’. There are too many books and journals to hold physically, online’s far more efficient. People are time-starved and do not get to return borrowed books on time.

Thus, Saudi Arabia’s new, flagship King Abdullah University of Science & Technology which opened this year has a library with “a  primarily digital collection with a moderately sized print collection”. The University of Calgary is building a digital library which will be one of the most advanced student libraries in Canada.

The above are upmarket examples, simpler options exist; the point is all libraries will all get more and more online over time.

That’s just 5 interesting ways technology is changing the way you learn.

Related posts :

Teachers’ shortage & Internet’s magic wand – I

Teachers’ shortage & Internet’s magic wand – II

Teachers’ shortage & Internet’s magic wand – III

The (online) future of books in India

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaushik November 3, 2009 at 9:06 am

Interesting, didnt know about NPTEL.

In India, if we have to have entire courses taught in a blended or a completely online environment, we will need to build that kind of content with that kind of instruction design inbuilt. We can use all the above to get useful modules for building these special course and bring down costs. Unless more players start doing this, the uptake of elearning-driven programs would be limited.

Also, the above ‘related post’ links are not working.


rohit November 3, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Hi Kaushik

Not sure I have understood you when you say we need to ‘use all the above’ to lower costs. From a consumer’s point of view, the online learning choices are already global and – save for bandwidth – often already free.

And thanks for feedback on the bad links 🙂


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