I recently spoke at the Future of Learning Conference at the Indian Institute of Management in Bengaluru (IIMB), India largely on the Near Future Teaching project.My participation at the event was graciously arranged by the British Council. The presentation largely suggested that there is a balance to be had with pragmatic evaluation of existing distance education and future oriented design that looks to proactively critique technology and its impact on what we do as universities.

The slides are provided below, which document (more or less) our process on the project, how do we derive inspiration from parallel and largely non-academic work, and how we might consider using personas to design towards specificity and away from ambiguity.

I was inspired, however, by the vigor and rigour of the other presenters and participants. It was largely focused on the work within India itself within digital education, how the complexities of scale in India are met (or not), and how access and equity may or may not be designed into the learning experience. The research largely focused on evaluation of the rather mature Indian work with MOOCs and the general expansion of higher education provisions to meet a demand scale that is, sufficed to say, enormous. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), for example, is the largest in the world at roughly four million active students. That is but one of many largely distance education institutions. Challenges remain in serving such scale, largely due to policy, funding, and bureaucratic transparency, but the dedication and rigor of the research presented at the conference suggests a transitioning educational system, much as India itself is largely transitioning.

With video presentations from the normal cast of characters (edX, Coursera, Andrew Ng) with the normal takeaways/tropes (access, AI, automation, employability) with the same largely unnuanced views of affordability (IE, price points of certificates or micromasters), the role of the private sector in education in India was evident and largely predictable. However, the practitioner and research community was a different story. Eager, enthusiastic, rigorous, and highly capable academics, a large swath of which representing universities which were using open source versions of LMS (largely Open edX) nestled within a particular Indian context.

“In earlier times, learning was a rite of passage. The model was ‘study-earn-retire’. This has been replaced by learning as a life-long activity. We will be learning and earning. Therefore, we must create infrastructure that enables continuous and life-long learning. Just-in-time learning will also become important and so will learning in small sachets. As each of us will have our unique journeys of learning, we need to create infrastructure so that samaj (society), bazaar (market) and sarkar (government) can work together to support this revolution,” he said, emphasizing that it is no longer about solving problems but about distributing the ability to solve problems and co-create at scale (Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, EkStep, and Non Executive Chairman, Infosys)

While much of the work focused largely on digital education, I was inspired by the teacher training work (in indigenous languages) of Azim Premji University and the overall discussion on the future of the university in the Indian context. There was the suggestion that universities move further into communities, become truly creative about how they reach particular communities with some cultural fidelity, and use technology insofar as it is appropriate.

A particular project I noted was the Ragi Project:

Much to learn from the work of digital education in India that might inform the Near Future Teaching project. With many thanks to the organizers for the invitation and the hope that I might return next year.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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