aHead in the CLOUD –

Can The Cloud Replace Teachers?

Sugata Mitra, an educational scientist, uses internet technology to prove that children without exposure to formalized education can use the internet to learn on their own without prompting.  In Mr. Mitra’s research, natural human curiosity emerged in children exposed to a computer with broadband internet access and kids who had never seen a computer before taught themselves basic computer literacy in a day.  Perhaps the most interesting experiment highlighted by Mr. Mitra was the task given to Italian children – Dr. Mitra had Italian children answer questions in Italian that he posed in English.  The children simply copied the text into Google, had Google translate the text to Italian and were able to answer the questions successfully.  Mr. Mitra also uses the ‘Granny Cloud’, a network of volunteers who facilitate learning via Skype.  Just imagine if the ‘Granny Cloud’ could be the ‘Mentor Cloud’ where volunteers with specialized knowledge facilitate learning of advanced subjects to anyone in the world.

  1. So, what could learning look like if instead of rows of desks facing a teacher in a classroom, we filled community learning centers with high-speed internet, tablet computers, and access to amazing volunteer mentors via Skype?  Perhaps we’d get a revolution in learning at a fraction of the cost of our current educational model.
  2. Is the ‘cloud’ the key to breaking out of the ‘drill and kill’ model of education?  Given access to the internet, broken into groups, and supplied with mentors, could children make better decisions about what is important to learn and what is best left for Google and Wolfram|Alpha?
  3. Does a real language barrier even exist now that content can increasingly be translated right in the cloud?  And doesn’t this open up the world’s libraries of information to everyone, regardless of who or where they are?  Can’t we leverage this to enhance learning in regions where teachers do not and will not go?
  4. Considering that Edison and Einstein both failed at institutionalized education, can cloud computing help to reach our current-day innovative thinkers in a way educational institutions cannot?

87 responses to “Can The Cloud Replace Teachers?

  1. Greg Camp September 10, 2010 at 8:41 am

    1. It would be a disaster. The key point being forgotten here is that children are children, not little adults. They need a leader. They won’t guide themselves into an education.

    2. Depending on volunteers denies the professionalism of teachers. Teachers have college degrees, often Master’s degrees, and deserve to be paid the equivalent of others with similar education.

    3. Yes, a real language barrier still exists. Have you looked at machine translations? They are poor attempts when compared to what a human being who knows the two languages can do. The information may be translated (badly), but communication is about more than just information.

    4. Can we please recognize that Edison and Einstein were exceptional individuals? They were geniuses. People like this represent about 2.5% of the population.

    A qualified teacher is essential to education. This will always be true, at least as long as we are human.

    • ginac September 10, 2010 at 9:16 am

      Thanks for your input, Greg! I agree with you that kids aren’t going to learn deeply without a leader, but I believe the leader is not as much a teacher as a mentor. Child-led learning embraces natural curiosity where mentors provide the guidance, answers questions, and pose challenges. When I speak of volunteers, I’m not speaking about grandma. I actually envision college professors or similarly educated professionals donating an hour per week to the cause. As for language translation, it may not be there yet, but those with no other options are already using it, and its a growing trend that should not be ignored or dismissed. Edison and Einstein were exceptional, but how many other geniuses were demoralized by educational institutions then and now who didn’t succeed in spite of the system? Could our very definition of what it means to be a ‘genius’ be flawed because our current definition is based on IQ tests or math scores? Yes, in principle, I agree with you that teachers are essential to education, but mentors are essential to learning, and the two aren’t necessarily the same. I just believe that words like teacher and education put learning in a box.

    • striker300southpaw September 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm

      The teaching profession nowadays is tainted. Today, anyone who is intelligent on a particular subject can get hired as a teacher. I know tons of people who wanted to go into Engineering or Medicine and instead they became a teacher, as if the teaching profession is the fall back plan for those who can’t quite get to their dream.

      Teaching requires a unique skill in which you have the uncanny ability to teach something new to someone without it sounding confusing or difficult. Throughout HS and before, I’ve had tons of “teachers” who knew their subject well, but they couldn’t interpret it to the students.

      Personally, the internet has done better for me than what actual teacher have. I mean for goodness sakes I was able to watch free lectures by a physics professor from MIT. Better than what I was given by my school.

      • Anna September 11, 2010 at 8:48 pm

        It’s a fallacy to stereotype all teachers as “those who can’t do, teach.” I had a magazine internship, studied in England, wrote for my university newspaper and published in the university journal before I even began my career as a teacher. I have seen the difference between teachers who chose a vocation first and then tried to be teachers and those who took the actual education courses to learn how to plan and present material. It’s hard work as well as instinct/personality to be able to transmit knowledge. Why do you think a profession like teaching requires so much professional development ALL THE TIME? It’s not all luck of the draw and genetics. Most university professors are published in one way, shape or form. Teachers are required to both “do” and “teach” at the same time. If you watched lectures via internet from a professor, then you clearly value quality teaching. While the internet is a tool for transmitting communication, how much a student gets out of it depends on the program and whether or not a “real” person out there is available for interaction and answering questions. The most successful online education systems out there require connection to a professor as well as interaction with other fellow students or “cohorts.” The internet is not supposed to be something from which we learn in isolation, but something that simply makes it easier for us to connect to each other even better than before.

      • striker300southpaw September 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

        @Anna, I’m not stereotyping the teaching business. I just think that there plenty of people who don’t take the profession serious. They seem to think of it as a career to fall back on if they don’t get that degree in Nuclear Physics or whatever they are going into. Most of my teachers were intelligent and understood their subject very well, but most didn’t have the ability to interpret the complexities of what they were teaching to average joes. I think that ability is rare and very difficult to develop.

    • Danya September 12, 2010 at 10:02 pm

      True. I feel like the push to digital education is just anther way of pushing false intelligence. Exactly what i would have said.

    • Zainab Khawaja September 13, 2010 at 5:27 am

      I agree. Education is one of those things that goes hand to hand with having a mentor, teacher, guide, helping hand. You cant expect children to just waltz into being educated. Yes, the ‘cloud’ can be seen as an educational advancement, something to help in the process, maybe make teachers lives a little easier, but direct human-to-human transfer of knowledge remains the best and most effective way to learn.

      Do check out my blog 🙂

      • michaeleriksson September 14, 2010 at 11:54 am

        “[…] direct human-to-human transfer of knowledge remains the
        best and most effective way to learn.”

        There are cases when this is true, but it is not generally true. In particular, the better the student and the more theoretical the subject, the less effective direct human-to-human transfer tends to be. Books are often superior, own experience is often superior, and own thinking is almost always the key ingredient, the make-or-break of learning.

  2. Thais September 10, 2010 at 9:21 am

    I’m very found of Mr. Mitra’s ideas, though I don’t believe that only leaving computers near children will encourage them to learn them all they need to learn. Therefore, I don’t believe that this could substitute entirely the contemporaneous educational model, but I do believe that both children and teacher could profit [and a lot!] from the integration of the traditional model with a cloud model.

    I’m not sure that children do need a leader, as Greg said, because I do not believe in teacher’s role as a leader; instead I think od a good teacher as a mediator to knowledge. As a mediator, the teacher should know when to be a leader and when to step back and let children discovery, learn and teach by themselves.

  3. complynn September 10, 2010 at 9:38 am

    I applaud you for having the guts to post this. I suspect most people comfortable with the internet will have similar feelings. The results Mr. Mitra saw are certainly those needed for establishing children as good learners (i.e., curiosity, willingness, and access to good tools). However, the results don’t mean teacher-guided education must cease in favor of a cloud.

    Ending the classroom has been a topic under discussion since the first classroom took shape (truly), and moving away from the classroom of the 1980s has been underway for awhile now (Smartboards, computer labs). Sure, the classroom needs to evolve to accommodate 21st century tools and why not use that period of change to rethink student engagement, teacher effectiveness, assessment methods, and all the other single-aspect topic that probably should not be considered separately from each other.

    Neither this study nor this post addresses one obvious question: where we get the number of volunteer specialists to staff this cloud? But let’s assume there are thousands and thousands available for the global village of eager learners who ask no more payment than their own self-satisfaction. Who will vet their abilities to communicate effectively with new learners? How can you be sure the volunteers will not, like some teachers, mistake stunted versions of drill and kill for effective practice of the skill they are attempting to teach? (And if you can vet volunteers for their effectiveness, can you not vet teachers also/instead?)

    Google decided to open libraries to all without calling for the end of teachers. Steve Jobs (inventor of the personal computer), Steve Sasson (inventor of the digital camera), and Steve Chen (co-inventor of You Tube), all went to schools employing teachers and yet still tapped into their personal genius.

    Calling for self-motivating learning as the primary vehicle for children’s education is perhaps necessary to reimagining global education, but naive, nonetheless.

    • ginac September 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

      Complynn, you bring up some extremely valid points, and I’d like others to ‘weigh-in’ on this as well! Where do we get enough volunteers and how do we vet them? I have some ideas, based on open-source models, but would love to hear from others. Technology can definitely play a part in making it possible, but ultimately, empowering children to explore their passions takes courage, belief, and dedicated individuals passionate about learning, whomever they are!

    • sakakikala September 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm

      You just wanted to list three Steve geniuses.*teasing voice* 😛

  4. bmj2k September 10, 2010 at 9:39 am

    This is a great idea if we only want kids to learn about Lady Gaga and anime. Using kids natural curisoity will only go so far.

  5. secretsue12321 September 10, 2010 at 9:40 am

    It is true that nothing can truly replace a teacher, but in areas where there are no teachers it is a great idea for children to get access to computers so that they cn at east teach themselves and each other.

  6. Jim September 10, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I am very intrigued by this. In some of the other comments I am reading that kids can’t lead themselves.

    That’s right, kids can’t lead themselves – that’s why we have parents? A parent’s discipline and personal interest in the child’s success, along with a mentor’s wisdom is a winning combination for education.

    As someone who uses the internet every day to improve my knowledge, I can personally attest to the viability of the cloud as a source of information on any sort of topic imaginable.

    The internet has connected what all of us know – it is a shame to see kids being educated by union teachers with outdated curricula and outdated methods.

    • Martha Grant September 10, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      Sadly, Jim, most parents are too busy working two jobs or solving their own problems or texting or blogging to be leaders for their own children. It is an unfortunate situation but teachers now have to teach children basic social skills that used to come from the family home. If the teachers job was simply to teach “outdated curricula” then perhaps the cloud would be an option to consider. But that is not the current reality.

    • Ama September 10, 2010 at 11:55 pm

      Assuming parents do their jobs. When this doesn’t happen children rely on the other source of adult, human, authoritative contact…teachers.

      And no way are you going to have mentors volunteer for this. We are living in a world where money rules over education.

  7. CrystalSpins September 10, 2010 at 10:16 am

    A chicken in every pot and a computer with broad-band Internet for every kid. Ah, the American Dream.


  8. Sulfonix September 10, 2010 at 11:25 am

    There are always two type of children, those enthusiastic to learn, and the rest who are least bothered about education 🙂 I think a mentor is still necessary, since many children won’t even think about learning when they know that no one is watching them. It’s freedom. Even I wouldn’t have learned by self study if a teacher wasn’t there to hit me (yes, they used to hit) and sent complains to parents who were made to monitor me. Cheers 😀

  9. Ishana September 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Would supplying so many computers with broadband internet connections really be any cheaper than hiring a teacher?

    Schools as we know them today supply students with, mostly, what they need to learn and grow. The teachers, professors, principles, coaches, etc provide the leaders and mentors for students. These people as well as the other students provide for the necessary social interaction kids require. The structure of hours and deadlines gives the students motivation to learn.

    Erasing the institution and replacing it with computers would mostly erase all of this.

    However, the computer itself is a great learning tool, and I agree that there are ways to use it to better education across the globe. What we need, in my opinion, is a mix of the ‘traditional’ schooling and the ‘cyber’ schooling.

  10. Utah Movers September 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I agree with Greg’s comments from earlier. The kids need that personal interaction, not just at home, but in learning at school too.


    • Victoria September 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm

      I’m with this as well. Teachers do more than just provide information to children and “educate”. Teachers are often the first or only person to express faith in certain students, the one who believes in them. I’m glad for computers and the internet because they are both excellent learning tools. But good teachers are necessary parts of every child’s life.

      • ginac September 10, 2010 at 2:53 pm

        Victoria, when you say teachers are the first and only persons to express faith in certain students, you are describing a mentor :). Yes, teachers who approach learning in supportive, open-ended explorations are indeed mentors and definitely a necessary part of a child’s learning process.

  11. amybeth1 September 10, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Socialization is also a valuble part of education.

  12. kristianigee September 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I believe that this is already happening. Look at the college classroom. Uses of the stystems like blackboard and joule are great examples of this evolution. The teacher barely has to do anything anymore. The student takes the test, the computer calculates the grade, generates it to the student and then generates a copy of the sam grade under that student’s name into the teacher’s gradebook. As far as teaching, we have online courses. However, keep in mind that the population of those needing an education is ever growing and ever againg. Most teachers in this time who are over forty or so really don’t know how to utilize a computer as well as a younger person can. However, some can. I’m on the edge of the fence about this one.
    I like the idea though.

  13. hkjjr September 10, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    We have to differentiate between education for children who are still growing and need to be led, nurtured and yes, I must say it babysat (or if you don;t like that term, supervised).

    Even in current eLearning initiatives for adults, the learning does not work well if the adult student doesn’t concentrate and focus on the learning. Children are still growing, and are not in complete control of themselves.

    These is a very significant difference between Mentors and Teachers.

    Mentors are volunteers who help guide someone to learn something.

    Teachers are responsible for the child’s learning and therefore must be paid and be part of a profession who are morally obligated to help the child learn. Even for adults, some sort of rules must be applied in lost cases, as everyone needs guidelines and requirements for learning.

    This doesn’t eLearning doesn’t have its place. Appropriate computerized training can help to reduce classroom overcrowding by allowing the teachers to be where they are needed most, in guiding and nurturing.

  14. Ray Harris September 10, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Lets remember that the model of teacher led learning is really of the past. Teacher as mentor and provider of a wide range of learning opportunities is the way to go. Students/children can certainly learn on their own , but better if they work cooperatively and collaboratively with others (cross age if possible)on real learning that is relevant and challenging. Technology should be used as part of the toolbox. Technology should really extend the learning of the most disadvantaged , isolated, those with learning difficulties. Teachers need to continue learning also -wireless/solar technology should be used to reach those teachers working in remote communities.


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  16. michaeleriksson September 10, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    It is certainly an interesting idea.

    In the end, we have to remember that everyone learns differently, with two implications:

    1. This could be a very good alternative for those who have both the drive to learn and sufficient skills—while being bored or underchallenged in the conventional class room.

    2. It is unlikely to work for everyone. In particular, this method will likely be increasingly too optimistic, the younger the children.

  17. Steve September 10, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    School is a place where your abilities (or lack thereof) are put under a microscope. It is a place where there is a constant honing and perfecting of your lessons and technique.

    Exceptional teachers and mentors are required for this to happen. Human intuition can not be programmed into software.

    We are also lacking a reliable, scalable, and fast infrastructure to make this concept being discussed 100% reliable. If there ever was a big national public works project worth pursuing this would be it. Video Conferencing need’s to become standard. But without large scale investment in internet infrastructure video conference is going to remain stuck in mediocrity for a while. Web 2.0 is also holding education back by dominating the bandwidth and infrastructure. We’ll probably need an entire new network for educational purposes. Free of the constraints and limits of the competitive for profit commercial internet. Or some kind of breakup of the current monopoly’s trying to meter everyone out of their life savings.

  18. firepot1000 September 10, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I can only think of the Montesourri way and using computers where children are taught a few disciplines through the curiosity and skill sets already there….

  19. nusbaum08 September 10, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    I keep hearing that kids spend to much time wathching their TV’s and playing video games. It’s making them overweight and lazy. So what should happen next? Let them earn their education through the computer. I believe using technology is a great resource to help teach the standards and skills students need to become successful for the future, but it should not take place of an educator. Students need to interact with others their own age to pick up the social skills with cannot be taught by a computer. Without them, they we not know how to intergrate themselves into the workforce when their “granny cloud” isn’t there.

  20. striker300southpaw September 10, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I can attest to this as a college student! Last semester I was taking University Physics, I had a horrible professor, couldn’t understand him at all. So I basically I went on youtube and watched recorded lectures of a Physics class at MIT, they have a very popular physics professor in Mr. Lewin who obviously made physics much more understandable than what I had to work with. I also used blogs as well to ask questions about physics from Engineers and others who seem to have a niche for Physics. The internet got me through that class.

  21. valhelion September 10, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Amazing what happens when you stop treating children like retarded pets that must be ordered about and starting treating them like human beings.
    Was that over the top? Sorry about that, seriously.

  22. kjskjp September 11, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Half-day in traditional classes.

    Half-day in The Cloud, with a choice of assignments, and free choice time.

    That’s the ticket !

  23. GKrishnan September 11, 2010 at 3:41 am

    Great write-up. Fact, it should facilitate learning not just for children, but for grown-ups too. Learning after all is a life-long process.

  24. sayitinasong September 11, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Interesting concept, and I am sure kids would and do learn via internet and independently… But I work in a school and what children need is also structure and discipline which comes in a classroom…a s well as the human interaction…

  25. Matt September 11, 2010 at 8:14 am

    The possibility that the internet could replace teachers excites me and panics me at the same time. It’s exciting because it’s the next level in affordable learning. It throws me into a bit of a panic because it’s one step closer to being socially disconnected. I’ve always been of the opinion that the more we advance, technologically speaking, the harder it is to relate to one another. The transition from snail mail letter to email, from phone call to texting… these all have struck me as steps to keep each other at arms length.

  26. Debbie September 11, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Humans are inanate learners. Why is it that people assume kids will NOT learn unless they are in a desk infront of a teacher?

    We unschool our 4 year old son. At 3.5 he taught himself to read; he is counting and recognizing numbers well into the thousands; he is teaching himself to add and subtract; he taught himself to navigate youtube so he could find his favourite videos. This may be a rare example…maybe not. But kids can indeed lead themselves in education if given the freedom and trust to do so. I’m not saying that there aren’t GREAT teachers out there…but they are definitely few and far between. A good teacher has to believe in ALL her students – not just the one she takes a shining to. Sadly, far too many students fall through the cracks.

    And what about the High School drop out rate? It is as high as ever in Ontario – where I live. What is wrong with this picture? If teachers are supposed to be engaging and reaching kids, teaching them something of interest…why are SO many dropping out? It isn’t working…and a change is needed. I praise Mitra’s ambitions.


  27. Summer September 11, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Nice post!!
    congrats on being freshly pressed!!


  28. JTS September 11, 2010 at 9:04 am

    As a business teacher myself, I wish that we could automate learning so that I would be free to pursue other interests.

    However much systems and technology can supplement education and however much self initiative can drive education, there still is a de facto teacher/tutor if we want some quality control.

  29. Howlin' September 11, 2010 at 9:43 am

    This is amazing! The kids used the Net to translate from English to Italian and it made sense? I’ve yet to find a translator that doesn’t spew out nonsense.
    I’m also amazed that they weren’t quickly distracted and spent their whole time looking at the pointless rubbish that clutters the Net, just like most of use “educated” adults. We live and learn!

  30. eurybe08 September 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Great Post! Very well said and expressed, It is quite something isn’t.

  31. the Kinder Life September 11, 2010 at 11:25 am

    What about the social impact of technology on our kids…some of them are not able to carry on an adequate conversation with others-they are becoming socially inept. Not to mention that the classroom is much different than it was when we were kids. Gone are long lectures, loads of worksheets, and drill and kill. The classroom is more technology driven than it was when were children. The education system does have its flaws, but let us not forget that kids do learn around others too. As a teacher, I’ve seen the classroom go from teacher-driven (lecturing)to student-driven (10 minutes at most instruction, small groups, hands-on activities, technology activities, projects). Or it should be that way. Meaning we are to teach to the whole child for optimal results. We do realize that we are competing against videos and highly visual tech. Let us not go completely off the grid. As far as the cost of this new model being cheaper…the government will always find teachers the cheaper route, I’m afraid. Technology is cheap when its working fine, but what happens when servers are down or gadgets break at the hands of developing motor skills.

  32. michaeleriksson September 11, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Several commenters bring up various aspects of teachers. A few remarks from my view point:

    o While a teacher should have the ability to make the subject and the lesson interesting, help the children with comprehension problems to understand, etc., far too few do. In many cases, we would not be replacing a good teacher with [whatever is suggested] but a second- or third-rate one.

    o It is important not to fall into to the trap of pedagogical-skills-are-more-important-than-knowledge: Both are prerequisites. Compromising knowledge for pedagogical skill amounts to building a new stable with the money received from selling the horses.

    o As implied by several commenters, the need for a lecture does not require countless mediocre teachers—it will often suffice to have a small group of stellar teachers preparing videos for public use. I recall watching countless documentaries and edutainment shows as a child, and I learned more (possibly, in absolute terms; definitely, per time unit) from them than I did in the class room—while having much more fun. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, in particular, had me spellbound. (This leaves issues like question-and-answer parts, order keeping, etc., but that should not be impossible to work out—we might still have teachers, just in a different role.)

    o The brighter the student, the less important the teacher. For the very bright, the teacher is often even an obstacle.

    • ginac September 11, 2010 at 1:48 pm


      I think you have the gist of what Mr. Mitra was trying to prove. Many responses so far have doubted whether children, left to learn on their own, would really embrace learning. But your statement about loving Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is proof that kids do and will find unconventional and informal ways to learn, often learning more meaningfully too. While we can’t abandon kids to raise themselves, we can all (including educators) step out of the way for once, to follow students’ passions. How many of us have experience of time flying by while totally engrossed in something (a hobby, book, music, etc)? Wouldn’t it be amazing if learning was like that for our children? Like you noted, we might still have teachers, just in a different role.

  33. 2zpoint September 11, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Man if I had that as a kid I could have cheated my way through college before my senior year! people would have thought that I was a GENIUS! I’d be living like a rock star because there was no human to tell me any different. I would have been an unstoppable ninja-like force that just had to manipulate a machine to get what I wanted. Instead I have to do it the hard way…and answer to teachers…Darn-it!

  34. bearyweather September 11, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    As a teacher, I am slightly blinded to imagining a world without classrooms and teachers … a lot is learned from learning with others. On the other hand, I am also the technology coordinator for my school .. I have a love for computers and techie tools that help students learn and teachers teach.
    Whether you believe that internet mentors can replace teachers and classrooms is a good discussion to have. Because, it is happening very slowly and sometimes rather covertly across the nation. Online schools are popping up everywhere. Schools using the internet as the main connection with student and parents … at my school, we have students choosing to take some classes we offer in a classroom setting on the internet instead (and the school has to pay for it – which is another topic all together). If we are going to implement educational change, we need to discuss these things so that we change with some goals in mind … not let it just happen like it is now.
    The internet can be a great learning medium … but, in the end, I think we are going to need a mix of teachers and technology to come up with the best solutions.

  35. im_anewsoul September 11, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    this is as frightening as when I heard that in some states there is no longer any penmanship courses available in certain elementary schools only typing classes…0_0

  36. Therapy Monkey September 11, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Great post! However, I think education should be a combination of the two. There are many advantages to a formalised style of education. Sure it’s not perfect but we all blame the system for it’s shortcomings. We often overlook that parents could take on more responsability in the educational of their children.

  37. happyflowerwordzoo002 September 11, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Enjoyed considering this experiment’s brave experimentation with self-guided learning. However – and, maybe I missed something – there is still an adult-mediated aspect to this children-in-cloud learning. The researcher posed questions which prompt, clarify, extend thinking, etcetera. Such questioning activity is teacherly/instructional behaviour so children not entirely independent. Also the fact of need for a Granny Cloud indicates need for adult-mediation to extend/assist student/children learning. The computer is just a machine and this experiment seems to indicate that adult-mediation (evolved learners) still a requirement. Kudos for post

  38. mashgula September 11, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    On Google translator and its “benefits”:
    If languages were that logical, we would be able to speak them all without going through the whole process of language acquisition– or learning, in the case of not acquairing the system.
    I haven’t seen any online translator program (is that the correct word?) that can actually translate and make sense because they all follow the same illogical idea of 1-to-1 translation. There’s no coherence in the translation that you get and if there’s no sense in the end, how can you learn? Maybe you understand the meaning of what they’re asking you but you cannot rely on such result because is not what you would actually say in the target language.

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  40. Humberto Rivera Navarro September 12, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Mitra shows some instances of the impact information technology can have in learning and education, but he hardly discovers or proposes new educational principles. His results are not that amazing considering what good teachers know and do. His makes some ambiguous affirmations that can mislead the interpretation of his findings. I comment more (in Spanish) here

  41. mrtwilliger September 12, 2010 at 4:37 am

    The big problem I have with this sort of educational model is the dehumanization of it. School isn’t solely about the absorption of knowledge, rather early schooling is about learning basic fundamental life skills. Socialising, interaction, creativity, playfulness, imagination and freedom.

    When I think back to my early schooling years I have all these great memories of playing and learning in a safe and natural environment. Eating sandwiches on the grass with friends, kicking a football, finger painting; simple activies which provided me with much joy. Should our younger generations be subjected to a more dehumanised form of teaching with the aim to provide them with more acidemic knoweldge? Personally, I think not.

    Myself, I’m a Systems Administrator student so I have spent a lot of time studying “the cloud” and all of it’s practicalities. I admit it’s an amazing resource that’s capable of outsourcing a whole load of everyday roles, such as server processing and information acquisition. But like all technology it should be used as an aid to more traditional resources, as opposed to a replacement. Instead of completely outsourcing the process, I’d love to it incorporated into a traditional style of teaching.

    “Over-specialise and you breed in inefficiency”

    • ginac September 12, 2010 at 5:56 am


      Imagine children together in a learning center, split into teams of 3 or 4, using the cloud to look-up constants, capital cities, and the like, and being coordinated by subject matter experts with Masters-level or higher education in hard sciences, the visual or performing arts, foreign languages, etc. Imagine each child creating his/her own project-based learning plan based on what interests him or her, instead of imposing the same curriculum on all. What is dehumanizing is when youngsters are made to sit still, be quiet, and memorize dates, facts, etc. and are then punished for speaking out of turn, forced to stand in long lines for everything, and blocked from much of the internet! By the way, many schools have cut recess and art, so no more finger painting and eating sandwiches on the grass anyway.

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  43. Hazel Lewis September 12, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Your research is very interesting and it is very relevant to how students are capable of learning technology without having to be taught. I do agree that if students are given an opportunity to learn how to use computers by using tutorials and other resources from the Internet that they can definitely increase their knowledge and skills about using technology. However, I feel that most students will still benefit from having teachers facilitate how to use various application software and demonstrating how to use innovative computer devices. Some of the challenges that students could face without having a teacher leading the instruction is for example when they do not clearly understand how to perform a task that relate to a specific technology concepts. This student would need additional help and if they do not receive it, then the student would not be able to advance to the next level of comprehending that concept. The teacher’s job is to help guide students and to provide them opportunities that will allow students to experience a concrete learning experience. I feel that this is very crucial component of student learning and it would cause student motivation to decrease which will affect student achievement.

  44. thilophian September 12, 2010 at 7:09 am

    teachers are teachers and students are students, they cannot be substituted.

  45. elbodans September 12, 2010 at 9:02 am

    What an interesting discussion. I can understand why there are so many replies–this is a very emotional issue for many people on ‘both sides’ of the argument–for lack of a better term–and I imagine many people replying are teachers themselves (disclaimer: I’m a teacher.) I think there can be a happy medium. imagine, for example, a computer for every student in every ‘traditional’ classroom across the country. This exists in some schools, but not many. Those traditional classrooms would–and do–look completely different. One might not call them traditional any longer!

  46. teknophilia September 12, 2010 at 10:11 am

    There are a lot of great websites and resources that let you get a good learning experience online, like Khan Academy (, which Bill Gates is a fan of, and universities that provide their lectures for free (

    I do realize that students, especially younger ones, need some sort of leader to guide them at first, but I’ve seen a lot of people, particularly adults, who use these resources to help them get a diploma.

    If we can find a way to fuse traditional and modern teaching methods, and couple students with the teaching regiment that best suits them, we could definitely get a better and smarter generation of students.

  47. Jackson Rodgers September 12, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Interesting work. Although there are lots of problems with our education system, I don’t think relying only on computers would work. As an example, I will use my 7 year old son, Kevin. Kevin starting using computers at age 4 and has become quite a whiz. If he doesn’t know something like how to put together a toy, we will Google instructions on the internet to find out how. Computers have helped him with spelling and many other things. However, Kevin’s spends most of his time playing computer games and not trying to learn anything new.

    I think computers are a good tool to complement learning taught in the classroom. There needs to be a teacher of sorts to facilitate and direct children to focus on learning and not just playing.

  48. complynn September 12, 2010 at 11:34 am

    This discussion has been incredible for its overall quality of posts! I repeat: I applaud you for opening the floor to the wide range of dissenters you were bound to get to the cloud idea.

    Because I was early in the comment string, I intentionally did not mention that I teach college English online. I love the mentoring role an online teacher must take to shepherd students to course completion. However, no matter how excited I am to teach and students might be to learn, enthusiasm has to be shored up by application and refined via feedback, or the material is only experienced and not truly learned.

    I, too, have seen the Cosmos episodes. I’ve read books about astronomy. I’ve seen Tyn Church in Prague where Tycho Brahe is buried. But for all my lifelong curiosity about astronomy, I am not at all qualified to work in the field.

    Part of a person’s education is self-motivated (hurray!), but another portion requires rigor that self-motivation alone seldom achieves, and a level of structure and depth that cloud mentors may not be able to see to completion.

    My experiences with cloud mentors is probably very similar to parents’ experiences with teachers. There are some that you are lucky to encounter, and then there are those that cannot explain exiting an open doorway. Both systems need oversight and evaluation loops to weed out those who cause the most frustration for learners. Swapping one imperfect system for the other isn’t really the answer for education.

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  50. Tim September 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    So, since we barely pay teachers anything to begin with, why don’t we just go ahead and do away with them in favor of ‘volunteer mentors.’

    This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

  51. Pingback: Ahhhhh….the Mentor Cloud « Fashionnation1on1

  52. homemarketviews September 12, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    “It is true that nothing can truly replace a teacher” However, this comment should be edited as “It is true that nothing can truly replace a GOOD teacher.” I actually see both sides of this situation. I now work in the academic world – a college, and although I never started out to be a college instructor, God has put me in that area, because of my technology background as a programmer and corporate trainer. Sometimes, I think a higher spirit is in heaven laughing, as I have never been a fan of schools. In fact, I have home schooled all my children, and still home school my 15 and 8 year old.

    I do use Cloud technology to teach my children. The golden question; why is education failing so many people? In the college area, in many classes especially those in technology, the teacher is no longer a mentor; we are merely the “guide on the side.” Those children, like my own who were taught to “discover” while learning, have no problems with this type of interaction. My own 15 year old girl tested out of the college computer literacy classes. However, education is not a “one fits all” solution. We now have several hundred older students returning to this type of college courses and failing.

    They were never taught to “discover.” I questioned why steps are left out of technology learning books, and researched the reason. It is so the student could discover how to complete the information on their own. I see where and why students are left behind. In my previous career as a corporate trainer and tech writer, it was important not to leave out steps, so the student could follow you and learn the concepts. I am often frustrated to watch as students take the class, yet the discovery concepts or ideas of the lesson do not transfer to actually learning. I have seen people go through an Excel course, but unable to actually build an Excel spreadsheet, or even understand the concepts of why they would use Excel.

    It is not just older students that struggle with this method (self paced learning) as I see young college students who have not used technology, and some do not even own a computer. People, I live in the US, and yes there are young adults that do not know how to use a computer. Today’s video technology is often a boring classroom imitation. We will see in the future, where innovative learning will replace those teachers that do not have the ability to convey the concepts, and merely refer the student back to the outdated method of “just read until you get it.” I have found that even certain teachers only know what is in the book. Video helps discovery, and kids do learn from each other. My own kids teach technology via the internet to their regular school counterparts. Not all teachers, but many will fall along the wayside, as the way of the newspaper journalist, graphic designer, and printers. Time will tell. As for myself, I embrace cloud computing, and look forward to creating more videos via YouTube to teach those who want to learn, by discovery, and by concept.

    Will children who learn this way become socially disconnected or are they connected socially in a different way!? I have discovered by watching my first born, now age twenty run a business via social media, travel to Japan alone, and has her own connections all over the world. She accepts payments for her business via Paypal and meets her local friends first online, then at local hotspots. The world is changing, and it will happen. How you as a teacher accept it or run from it will be the determining factor.

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  55. sarahnsh September 12, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I have tried online classes before and for me, personally, it just doesn’t work. With me I need to be in a classroom setting and have structure to really do my homework and learn. And, I tend to pay attention more with interaction from teachers and students. I procrastinate too much when it comes to online stuff and never get the work done.

  56. TechChucker September 12, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    1. At what point was it agreed that most teachers were bad teachers? Teaching is a profession just like your job or mine, so if you get to arbitrarily assume most teachers are bad at their job then one can only assume the majority of all employees are bad at their jobs. Most people have no clue how hard it is to be a teacher, but they think they have all the answers anyway.

    2. Colleges have been moving to cloud based and hybrid classes for years. There are plenty of online schools you can get a masters or bachelors from. The problem is the online classes or degrees aren’t worth nearly as much as the equal brick and mortar class because of the cheating factor. Why do you think an online credit costs more than a classroom one? It’s certainly not because it costs the school more to provide the class. Think about it.

    3. Take a tour of most any real elementary school classroom while school is in session and tell me the majority of those wild and seemingly crazy third graders are going to search out a well rounded education on their own.

    4. I have found volunteers are a great pipe dream but never a sustainable reality on a grand system wide level. It sounds great on paper but isn’t a reality.

    5. About 50-60% of households in my district have internet access. This country doesn’t yet have the proper infrastructure in place to provide a cloud learning environment for all, so I assume you really are just talking about those that can afford these services are welcome for now.

    I am the IT Director for a rural school and we have made some great strides technology wise but I continually have to remind people that technology is only a tool, the Internet is just a tool. It is not a solution to the problem. The ones that have theharedest time getting this concept are usually the highly educated. Sorry but sometimes overeducation is what causes problems in education in my opinion. But, I’m just a lowly tech guy that hasn’t studied the education system formally so maybe I’m way off base. 😉

    • ginac September 13, 2010 at 2:48 am

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Here are my thoughts on your points.
      1. I certainly didn’t make the point that teachers were bad at their jobs. Perhaps teaching is one of those professions subject to mass amateurization.

      2. Mr. Mitra used cloud technology as an aid to learning in his research. Remember, he was demonstrating that children without access to formal education were self-educating. For those kids, learning meant survival. However, I personally believe that children learn better when they learn what and how they prefer, instead of being stuffed in a classroom, told to shut up, sit still and memorize math facts.

      3. Regardless of how energetic kids are, they have been learning since birth. Kids learn about their world through active exploration: touching everything, putting things in their mouth, leafing through picture books, etc. When children are very young, they ask endless questions. Increasingly, Google and other websites can answer many of these questions. However, deeper learning requires a facilitator with expert knowledge in a subject area. So, instead of the ‘teacher’ title, how about a facilitator?

      4. Volunteers are very real and extremely effective (think Wikipedia and the Linux operating system). It’s really too bad that so many people believe that fellow citizens would not volunteer their time without being paid — that’s a fallacy!

      5. There are serious federal government initiatives underway to increase broadband and wireless access across the U.S. Until then, public libraries are great places to learn, with free computers and internet access.

      • TechChucker September 13, 2010 at 11:11 am


        I should have specified that note 1 was in response to many of those who commented on your post.

        Often ideas and theories such as yours are short essays or blog posts that simply don’t give enough information of what the true idea is. Many people use ideas such as yours as a reason the education system as it is, isn’t working.

        I should say I do belive eduacation is on it’s way towards the cloud, but I don’t think the education of our youth can afford to do away with paid teachers or even buildings entirely. Kids require true socialization, discipline, and structure, and kids these days have less of all three because of many reasons. Technology can help reverse this trend or cause it to continue down this path.

        The true change education needs to make is to truly move away from Fact and move to congnitive thinking. Teach kids how to think, not memorize and you’ve changed the education system in a positive way. In the end that is what you are going for I believe. Cloud computing is not the only way to accomplish that and a mentoring program is more of a suplement to the current education system we have, not a replacement for the general public.

        I appreciate the post and hope it gets people thinking outside the box on technology and education, but it feels there’s a lot of loose ends hanging out there with the idea.

    • michaeleriksson September 14, 2010 at 11:50 am

      Regarding 1: This is exactly the observation that I have made again and again—very few people reach the level they should reach, many are downright incompetent, and quite a few are complete and utter disasters. I see no reason why teachers should be different. On the contrary, seeing that teaching is one of the hardest jobs around, it seems quite reasonable to assume that the situation is even worse there. (Something which is born out by my own, obviously limited to a small sample, experiences as a pupil.)

      You may also want to throw an eye at e.g. The Peter Principle

  57. ardo September 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    While this man’s research shows the wonders computers can do for children who have little opportunity, and supports the idea that education should be far more student-centered than it is (perhaps the fact that education isn’t self-directed is the reason certain kids dislike school to begin with). However, the type of learning they are doing doesn’t strike me as sufficient for areas that have the resources to provide teachers. As a current high school student, what I receive from teachers is valuable feedback and introduction to new ideas I’d never heard before, and questions I’d never thought I’d come up with/hear, and encouragement to think deeply about things. These kids are google searching answers and memorizing them– useful for a science course like intro chem or biology– but what about beyond that?

    I think this is a great model for teaching young children– give them freedom and encourage them to collaborate, and complimenting their effort and not just their scores. At this point in my high school career, I view some teachers as helping me a lot by giving me guidance, confidence in what I make/think, trust, and some flexibility in what I learn. I view others as standing in my way by having everything revolve around what they want me to know without my eyes being diverted for a second. I think a healthy balance can be struck here for all academic subjects, and above all I think this TED talk busts a hole in the teacher-centered model of the classroom.

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  59. susha September 13, 2010 at 9:57 am

    sometimes a good old class with your friends and teachers gives you that extra ‘nature’ to your life. this may only supplement that… there may yet be a day when one lives his whole life from inside custom made rooms, having to meet no one physically, but going all over the world, but that wouldn’t be so much fun would it? imagine wishing you were in Spain, and being there in a second, as opposed to saving up, dreaming, travelling and reaching there, anticipation, yearning, love and all that. moderation. we need to advance… but in moderation.

  60. indiahomeschool September 14, 2010 at 12:37 am

    Though I don’t get every techie thing you say. I love your blog (came to know via Freshly Pressed). Also thanks for the great links in your cool stuff section.

  61. Bugg September 14, 2010 at 11:09 am

    I once heard that teachers do not necessarily get rich teaching, yet not many people lead a richer life. Let us keep good teachers!

  62. Pingback: Interesting TED video « Digital Teaching Portfolios blog

  63. thesocratesofsnails September 20, 2010 at 9:25 am

    1. Kids would spend 1/5 of the time doing what they were supposed to, the other four fifths surfing the web. Probably 3/5 or more of a teachers job is classroom management. If you think all you have to do is give kids access to knowledge and they will do it on their own, you are badly misinformed.

    2. See above

    3. No. Very much no. If think try feeding google translator a bit of Mandarin and see what happens.

    4. Edison and Einstein were geniuses. What you call “innovative thinkers” aren’t the ones who fall through the cracks—it’s the kids who are just average. Those are the ones we are constantly failing.

    I don’t want to say a bit of this wouldn’t work in certain situations. But it won’t replace a teacher in the classroom. Ever.

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