#ATD2015 Keynote: Sugata Mitra

#ATD2015 Keynote: Sugata Mitra

ATD Keynote: Sugata MitraThis was a fantastic presentation! What Sugata Mitra has managed to learn and create has been nothing short of great. This presentation began the third day of the ATD conference. It set a wonderful tone for the rest of the day.

Sugata Mitra is a Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University and a 2013 TED prize winner.

The Future of Learning

Mitra began his presentation by discussing the change of ASTD to ATD. He indicated this is important because we are developing talent. He then showed a Wordle created from a collection of top research documents for the past year focusing on learning. He could not find the word teacher. He noted that 100 years ago we did not have telephones, tvs, computers, etc. How did that world operate?

The age of empires

During the 16-20th centuries, we needed lots of people. However, they needed to be all the same and they did not need to be creative. We had a machine that created these people, it is called a school.

  • Soldiers – needed to be the same, obey orders, not creative.
  • Clerks – need to read and write. Do math in heads. follow instructions. Sit long period of time. Not creative
  • Factory workers – Stand in same spot for hours. Follow instructions. Not creative.

These properties are no longer important.


Mitra then proceeded to shows items that have disappeared:

  • fountain pens
  • reel to reels
  • slide rule
  • record player
  • camera

Everything went into phone

Mitra showed a stage coach. Stage coach drivers were essential to travel at this time. Then cars were invented… passengers became the drivers. Because we are creative, and drove creatively, new roads and rules changed. We are now moving to cars that drive themselves. Grandchildren will wonder what driving is. Even concepts disappear.

Hole in the wall

Mitra was looking for software developers. During the time, he was providing rich people software development lessons. They would come back and tell him that their kids were gifted. He noted that rich kids were not necessarily gifted… they simply have access to computers. What would happen if he gave slum children a computer.

In 8 hours, these slum children were browsing the Internet. He repeated the experiment with the same results. Unsupervised children given access to a safe public Internet will go from zero skill to average secretary in 9 months.

Teachers found out that their English became perfect while turning in homework. The children found a search engine. These were the first attempts of the passengers trying to drive the car.

With text to speech, students had improved their language skills by teaching the computer to write properly. They had to first learn how to pronounce the words properly. These kids also learned biotechnology of DNA on their own at 12 years old by surfing the Internet. Groups of children using the Internet can learn anything.

Granny Cloud

Mitra observed how a grandmother coaches kids. They use admiration to pull out more from learners. As a result, he created the granny cloud. The presence of a friendly mediator can improve self-organized learning.

Self-organizing learning environments (SOLE)

Learning is great but what about assessment. We need assessment that matches the real world. Right now, schools do not assess how learners learn in the real world.

Please tell us the time of day, but do not use a watch.

These types of assessments are based on creating the same type of people. The world and its needs have changed. Allowing the internet into the exam hall will change everything and teaching would also be different.

School in the cloud

Hole in the wall + granny cloud + SOLE = School in the Cloud

The School in the Cloud, learning will be much different. If the teachers are not as interesting as an xbox then the must make themselves more interesting.

This group will be explorers. They will not be the same.

Mitra and team are also doing experiments teaching adults. For example, adults were tasked with setting up a scaffold. One team was taught by school, the other by YouTube. The YouTube team did it much quicker. The problem we currently face is that we are conditioning learners to wait for direction.

We need to prepare learners for learning by giving them the right opportunities, and then get out of their way.

My head is still buzzing because of this presentation. Because of Google and YouTube, self-directed learning is on the rise. How will schools adjust to benefit from this transformation?