Sramana Mitra: It starts to get very tricky because we also have weekly roundtables, which are live sessions where people are gathering from all over the world. They are networking. It’s like a class. There’s instructors and students. There’s networking and relationship-building. All of that phenomenon can, to a degree at least, be simulated online. In fact, now we’re doing it across global boundaries, which you cannot do in physical settings.
Peter Hirst: That, in fact, is what we’re doing in these avatar-based virtual classrooms. We’re really creating an emotionally-engaging environment where people can get together in that way. I have been talking to some of the other folks at MITx and edX. Right now, they’re seeing a phenomenon at edX where a whole bunch of people who are taking an edX course at the same time, actually get together to create a study group. I’m very interested in, “Can we replicate enough of that experience using online tools where the people coming together don’t actually have to be near or together to do that?” Because particularly when you go into increasingly specialist topics, it still may be very geographically distributed. You also get an advantage at a much greater diversity with people you’re interacting with.
Sramana Mitra: There’s definitely a social aspect to learning. All these experiments are helping us learn and perhaps quantify which social learning models work the best.
Peter Hirst: Right. We are in this great position at the moment. What we are really doing is experimenting.
Sramana Mitra: I think this is the most productive era of experimentation in education going on.
Peter Hirst: We’ve been assuming human beings being human beings and social animals. I believe that’s certainly true of everybody that’s in their 30s and up. That’s mostly what we’re dealing with executive education. It may still be somewhat significantly true of people who are currently in their 20s, but I do wonder a lot about the generations that are coming after that who actually have grown up interacting online.
Sramana Mitra: They’re complete digital natives whereas, we were digital immigrants.
Peter Hirst: Already there is that challenge of education for that generation as they’re going through school. They’re going to be entering universities in 10 years’ time, and the workforce in 20 to 25 years’ time. It might well be that a lot of our assumptions about what social even means and about how people interact could be very different.