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BW Businessworld

Teaching In The Time Of The Internet

Are you here to learn or to be taught? This was the question a respected doyen of management education was known to ask an entering class. It is perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

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Are you here to learn or to be taught? This was the question a respected doyen of management education was known to ask an entering class. It is perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

My generation (I grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s) was brought up in an era where parental relationships were largely hierarchical; parents were authority
figures, and dissent was relatively rare among young children. Academic pressure was high, perhaps a function of the middle class realisation that education was the solitary route to economic security.

Thirty years later, we are the new upper middle class. Perhaps we are affluent, but reluctant to let go the word middle. Parenting relationships have changed; we want our children to grow up with more choices and less pressure. The relationship between parent and child is significantly less hierarchical, more friendly and dissent begins at a far earlier age. Children are exposed to technology early, and often it is their first, and primary source of knowledge. A teacher whose knowledge is in disagreement with Google is likely to be found out, and judged.

What does this imply for our business schools? When this generation is trained for leadership, they will expect to be taught differently. When they enter workplaces, the teams they lead will be younger, better informed, and will expect to be led differently. In short, pedagogy will need to change; the prevalent model will have to move from one-way instructor-led classrooms to two-way instructor-facilitated ones.

The attention span of digital natives is low; they are bored easily. Even in classrooms, the teacher is often competing with a laptop or mobile screen (although that is easily fixed by many). The teacher’s job changes, from somebody who is a repository of knowledge to somebody who asks questions to elicit application of knowledge; from somebody who has all the answers to somebody who knows which questions to ask, and when; from somebody whose preparation involves mastery of content, to somebody whose preparation begins with mastery of content and ends with mastery of audience and process. Teaching evolves; from teachers who know it all to teachers who know what they know and what they don’t know, and have the ability to connect to their students.

This involves the reskilling of teachers. It involves relooking at the way we train teachers. It may imply relooking at the qualities we look for in our teachers. However, in doing so, we may learn that many of the best teachers have known this all along. We have merely accelerated the transition in recent years.

For those who love teaching, this is a welcome change. It suggests that respect in the classroom is not a privilege which comes with position, but a distinction to be earned by demonstrated behaviour. For tomorrow’s students, it suggests that teachers can be friends, and in doing so, can extend their influence to touch student attitudes and values in deep ways.

Sugato Mitra, the influential researcher behind the ‘hole in the wall’, once said, “Any teacher who can be replaced by a computer should be”. While some could argue that that is overstating the case, it cannot be denied that the teacher’s task in an area of widely available knowledge, moves to application, engagement and questioning. In short, both teachers and students need to recognise that the classroom (or any other space where learning happens) is a venue for two way learning.

In summary, both teacher and student of tomorrow must be able to correctly answer the question ‘Are you here to learn or to be taught?’

The author, Ranjan Banerjee, is dean of the S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)