Call for open research on scalable online peer learning platforms based on the SOLE

Years of research has proven that peer learning has significant advantages over the traditional learning pedagogical approaches that are followed in most of the education systems around the world.

Yet even with the digital “revolution” of education through the internet, what we witnessed is the translation of the same age-old ways of teaching and studying to online platforms (refer: Children and the Internet).

SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment ) is a specialized collaborative learning framework created by Dr. Sugata Mitra following his experiments with the Hole-in-the-wall project. This blend of peer learning and investigative learning has the ability to immerse students into (virtual) exploratory journeys of answering questions and understanding the underlying concepts behind them in a way that aids their academic and social development.

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Due to limitations of technology and adoption in public, SOLEs were predominantly physically conducted with the equipment and specifically designed classrooms required. Since then we haven’t had a student-centric peer learning digital space that is based on (or even vaguely derived from) the principles of SOLEs.

The use of SOLEs is still prevalent in schools and institutions that can afford the infrastructural, societal, and regulatory challenges. Meaning that the majority of the world which can benefit from SOLEs, if made available online, still doesn’t have any access.

The online learning space is filled with platforms that come under the categories of LMS (learning management systems), MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and Learning Destination Sites. The focus is still on the content, study material quality, delivery, and serving institutions rather than a student-first approach to learning.

Today we have the technology to develop the tools and platforms that can replicate (to some degree) the user experience of SOLEs, and at the same time make it scalable to reach even the remotest places that have internet access.

What we do not know is the kind of challenges that come with online collaborative learning environments, the extent of innovation and development effort that needs to go into dedicated online platforms to support SOLEs, how SOLEs work when the groupmates and mentors change with potentially every session, how the subjective evaluation of students can be generalized, and many more questions in the scope of scalability problems.

Shared below are some of the excerpts from a draft proposal on the research and development of online platforms for scalable SOLE learning:

The communication disconnect: At the core of SOLE lies collaboration and working with your groupmates. Students discuss, teach and debate each other on their understanding of things, point out resources and keywords to search on the internet, give a direction to their exploration of the answer to the question and shape the way how they would present their learnings. Being physically present in a classroom facilitates all this process as communication is 55% nonverbal.

Unknown outcomes of grouping up unfamiliar students in SOLE sessions: In Dr. Mitra’s experiments it was observed that students would often take some time to get used to the new learning pedagogy and get to know their peers in the new minimally supervised environment but will eventually settle down to investigate the question. There has been no research where students unknown to each other (often in every other session) would be grouped and left in a SOLE session.

Absence of a free and open online database of big questions: Even if the platforms to conduct SOLE sessions online was in place, you would need a database of “Big Questions” designed properly (investigative, interesting, and informative outcome-based) and accessible to anyone to access, correct, and contribute to. Currently, no such service is available.

Task: Creating QurioSOLE: A free and open-source application made to conduct SOLE sessions that anyone can install on their infrastructure.

Task: Organizing QurioSOLE sessions online organically for all the students we wouldn’t be able to reach out to and interact with physically. This would give us an intuition on the chances of mass adoption of an organically growing peer learning platform and the kind of issues that would be posed by the interactions of students and mentors in such an unsupervised online space.

Deliverable: Open research on our experiments with online MIE-based learning in students at a scale where the interaction with others is random in terms of the students involved and the topic to learn.

Outcome: A better understanding of the dynamics of online learning in collaborative environments where students work with different peers every time.

Feedback on the above and ideas or suggestions on the implementation of the online platforms and research collection methods are invited.