Self-organised learning

I loved this TED talk by Sugata Mitra. He presents a series of stories where children are provided with computers and a problem and develop a whole series of learnings, many unexpected. The highlight for me is that the main intervention is for the “adult” to leave the room and not supervise – although there is a role for a “granny” whose brief is to

stand behind them and admire them all the time

It’s a profoundly social experience; it’s not the same if a child sits in front of a computer alone.

So much for the importance of the teacher structuring the experience for them. And where lies the wisdom in all the “lesson plans” which they’re all expected to compile in British schools?

Mitra argues

education is a self-organising system where learning is an emergent outcome

Although he focusses on younger children, I think there are significant ramifications for learners of all ages. If he’s only partially right in his extrapolations, he presents a real challenge to conventional thought about learning (and check out the comments at TED to see people struggling with this). I’ve argued for some time that universities in particular are vulnerable to a massive shift in how students wish to learn, akin to the paradigm shift which has confronted the music industry.

The surprise the audience feels at Mitra’s remarkable successes reminds me of the surprise participants often express at the end of an Open Space: they didn’t realise people were capable of this degree of self-organisation. And that surprise is worthy of some serious reflection on how else we limit our hopes and expectations of what groups can do and how much supervision they really need.

Hat tip Viv McWaters for emailing it to me

1 thought on “Self-organised learning

  1. Ben Ziegler

    Thanks for sharing this Johnnie. The end of the presentation brought tears to my eyes. Something new and beautiful emerging, revealed… Your point that there are interesting ramifications for all ages (in addition to children) is so true. I immediately connected Mitra’s ideas and work with business/social innovation, and the idea that the best work, the most creative and innovative work, is often done in teams no bigger than a jazz band (e.g., handful), with people working collaboratively, in positive ways, in the same space. One of the many other nuggets I pulled from the talk was the idea of 100 million mediators (including grandmothers) as catalysts to education – I do some work as a mediator (dispute resolution) – and had not viewed mediation in an education context, as Mitra does. Interesting.


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