Pioneering smart learning

Ellucian announces key leadership changes

What is smart learning?

Smart learning is a broad term for education in today’s digital age. It reflects how advanced technologies are enabling learners to digest knowledge and skills more effectively, efficiently and conveniently. Although the ongoing global movement towards smart learning marks an important paradigm shift in modern learning, many people still find the concept vague. It is best viewed from the perspective of the Three T’s, or Total Transformational Thinking.

Total Transformational Thinking involves four components: learner, faculty, curriculum and the learning environment. The learner becomes a proactive leader rather than a static follower of the educational process. Faculty focus on being a mentor and a coach rather than just being a teacher, which requires training to effectively impart knowledge under a learner-centric framework. The curriculum is overhauled to better reflect how knowledge is evolving both in form and delivery. Finally, the Learning environment is expanded to consider new realities, such as the dominance of mobility, which has opened vast opportunities for mobile learning.

Barriers and challenges to smart learning

Society is normally resistant to change. The Wright Brothers, for example, were ridiculed by the scientific community for believing that manned air flight was the future of transportation. Today, we cannot imagine a world without aircraft. Since smart learning is in relatively nascent stages, especially here in the Arab world, it similarly faces several barriers. The main challenge is that smart learning goes against the rigid nature of traditional education. Today’s institutions are more focused on managing personnel, buildings and finance rather than the crucial task of managing learning.

The academic community and the public at large, should embrace smart learning as a solution to many problems. For this solution to become effective, we need to change how we perceive learning, and accept that conventional education simply cannot keep up with today’s rapidly changing world. We need to change the way the entire higher education system works and make it more beneficial for the modern learner.

Pillars of smart learning

A smart learning service or provider is founded on three pillars: accessibility, flexibility and affordability. To make learning truly accessible at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University(HBMSU), we use our Lifelong Learning Model (the 4 C’s Model) to categorise learners as Casual, Committed, Concentrated and Continuing Learning and employ context-specific learning approaches accordingly. For example, we have partnered with Starbucks to provide casual online learning opportunities at 27 of its branches in Dubai. Patrons can gain knowledge while sipping their favourite brew. For more serious learners, the HBMSU Cloud Campus offers a repository of short educational videos covering over 5,000 courses.

Smart learning should be flexible for all, regardless of gender, physical abilities, age, religion and other groupings. HBMSU honoured one of its top academic performers. She is partially paralyzed and thanked us for giving her the chances that other institutions would not. This kind of flexibility is part of the smart learning DNA.

Affordability is a perennial issue in conventional education, with institutions constantly struggling with limited space, tuition rates and the likes. While many complain that education is expensive, the reality is that ignorance is costlier. Smart learning reduces expenses in areas such as transportation and classroom requirements, giving learners greater financial freedom to pursue knowledge and become productive members of society.

Smart learning—The future of higher education

Smart learning is the best path to ensure the brightest future for higher education. Many higher education institutions are already reaching out to more learners through non-traditional approaches—a trend we expect will gain more momentum in the coming years.

When HBMSU was founded as the first eUniversity in the Middle East in 2002, we envisioned the transformation of the region’s educational landscape through a blended learning approach that combines face-to-face classrooms, online classrooms and self-paced learning. Today, we envision a future where education is free for the entire Arab population, relying on the 4 C’s Model to ensure that all people are given appropriate jobs and the opportunity to enjoy a decent life.

Our dream goes beyond the typical classroom. We want to reach out to those who desire to learn but are disadvantaged by their circumstances. There are around 17.5 million out-of-school youths within our region, many of whom are refugees. It will take us centuries to meet their educational needs, but smart learning can dramatically accelerate the pace.

We are currently witnessing the rise of a fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by the emergence of exciting technologies that are blurring physical, digital and biological boundaries. For the global educational community, this new era is providing us with the tools, techniques and embryonic infrastructure to fulfill our ultimate mission of educating the entire society.

Like a parachute, the mind cannot function until it is opened. Smart learning opens the mind to the possibilities of borderless education, and those of us with the passion and the means must collectively work towards unleashing its full potential for the benefit of learners navigating a smart new world.

Just as the Wright brothers dared to take flight and change the world, the educational community must spread its wings bravely—and smartly—towards a better future for humanity.

Meet the authors
Dr. Mansoor Al Awar
Dr. Mansoor Al Awar
Chancellor, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University

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