“I see a lot of disruption get stymied by ‘the system’ or process blocks. Don’t wait for permission; rather seek forgiveness with your awesome results!” – UK
For Ben Betts, a classroom doesn’t require four walls, and in fact, learners may be better off without them. Betts, who is currently completing his doctorate in engineering while leading HT2, his learning technology company, mixes business and engineering acumen with a strong desire to change the status quo in education. The changes he advocates range from how kids learn to how they’re ultimately accredited for what they’ve learned.
To address needed improvements in the “how” of learning, Betts and team have built
Curatr, a new learning approach based on peer-to-peer collaboration. The tool is free
to teachers and worth checking out:
Betts shared with us his views on what’s wrong with the current accreditation process, and how teachers can get up-to-speed on the latest in e-learning.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
In online education we’ve been facing a couple of problems. Firstly, it costs a lot to create an online course. For example, MITx is sinking $60m into their MOOC (massive open online course) projects. So we came up with a method that relied more on peer-to-peer collaboration than it did on creating an expensive piece of e-learning – this has helped to radically reduce the cost of creating an online course.
But participation figures in online collaborative learning are low – often people quote so called “power laws” to suggest that 80 percent of the work will be done by 20 percent of the students. This is a problem as we know that those students who are more active in a learning experience will achieve greater results than those who are passive. So we then worked to create a method that would actively encourage participation in an online learning experience, using techniques like ‘gamification’ to encourage students to try new behaviors.
The work has resulted in both a new platform (Curatr) and a new method (The Collaborative Learning Cycle). Curatr has won awards in both the UK and USA for its novel approach and it’s implemented at a number of schools, universities and companies to change the way they do education.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Hopefully we’ve presented a way in which online learning can be both effective and affordable. But to be honest we’re only just beginning. There is a growing acceptance of peer-to-peer learning activities being a great way to facilitate online learning; but this isn’t the result of my work, it is the result of many researchers all over the world coming to the same conclusions.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
They can use our platform – Curatr is free for teachers. But they can also read and research the techniques in a number of ways – be on the lookout for ideas like Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, Gamification and MOOC’s. In fact, the best way to implement what we’ve learned is probably to take one of our courses or one that’s similar in structure.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
We now host accredited online courses using our techniques. So instead of using a more traditional LMS (learning management system) if you visit Warwick University online, you might just get to use Curatr. The platform also has a commercial arm and we’re experiencing fantastic growth which has led to our company doubling in size over the last three months.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Cost. In the UK, cost is probably the single biggest barrier, especially with fees increasing.
What is your country doing right to support education?
The UK is starting to embrace more quality online initiatives and certain pots of funding have been made available to support education using technology – the UFI Charitable Trust is investing £50m to improve adult education through technology, for instance.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
For me, the keys to accreditation need to be taken away from universities. Any company or person should be eligible to accredit a qualification and given the technology at our disposal, it’s now very easy for students to create and share personal portfolios of their learning as evidence of their education. It makes very little sense for a programmer to be accredited by a university when they could be accredited by Google, for example. But until that system is opened up to disruptive innovation, it is very hard for new avenues of education to open up in the UK that conform to the requirements of the job market.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Accreditation – the system is old and outdated. We still award degrees fundamentally based on the number of hours someone spent studying a subject. But we all know that hours spent in a lecture theatre are not the equivalent of hours spent experiencing something in the real world.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
The Facebook mantra – move fast and break things. I see a lot of disruption get stymied by “the system” or process blocks. Don’t wait for permission; rather seek forgiveness with your awesome results!
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I think adaptive learning as a trend is probably helping students. Systems like Knewton
and Grockit are very clever and are starting to do the job of one-to-one tutors. But they remain expensive to build and maintain. So I wouldn’t want us to get too wrapped up in the computer as a tutor – people can still do a better job in person.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
An smartphone with a data plan.
As far as I’m concerned, it puts a world of knowledge at your finger tips and gives you the perfect device for creating videos and other media that can show your learning. And of course you can use it as a phone, should you want to talk to someone! You don’t really need anything else.
About Ben Betts
With a decade of designing, developing and managing online learning projects, Ben is fast becoming a household name in the E-learning industry. He was named as one of Elliott Masie’s “30 under 30” thought leaders in learning for 2010 and was elected to the board of the eLearning Network in 2010. Betts is a frequent presenter both in the UK and globally, and has published a number of articles for popular industry magazines, including E-Learning Age and Learning Solutions Magazine.
Birthplace: Nottingham, UK
Current residence: Oxfordshire, UK
Education: MBA, final year of PhD at University of Warwick, UK
Website I check every day: Slashdot, BBC Sport
Person who inspires me most: Right now? Probably Jesse Schell. You should totally get him to do this.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Marrakesh (pleasure)
When was the last time you laughed? Why? About a minute ago – my dog, Jasper, constantly makes me laugh.
Favorite book: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Favorite music: Anything that I can tap my foot to
Your favorite quote or motto: One thing at a time, most important thing first, start now.