New Frontiers in Adaptive Learning for Upskilling African Workforce
Dr. Nish Sonwalkar, Founder and President, intellADAPT was invited as the keynote speaker for International University of East Africa’s (IUEA) commencement ceremony in Kampala, Uganda. Below is the speech that inspired the students, faculty members and families present at the ceremony.
Respected Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Chairman of Board of Trustees, Faculty and students of IUEA, I am honored to address you today at your graduation ceremony. First, my heartfelt congratulations to students graduating today. You have worked very hard to receive the degrees and certificates. I also want to congratulate your family who supported you through your journey at IUEA to receive this honor. We are all indebted to the esteemed faculty and staff of IUEA who made it possible for you to achieve your dreams. I remember myself going through my doctoral degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which was a long journey and an honor. It was a milestone that I was thrilled to achieve, however, little did I know that that was the beginning of the next phase of my life and professional career.
Today is your day to rejoice and celebrate this important milestone in your life that marks the successful completion of the degree program at IUEA. You are now ready to face the world and make IUEA staff proud with your accomplishments and by becoming a productive member of Uganda and East Africa. You will become a successful member of the African workforce. This is why I have chosen to give you a glimpse into the New Frontiers in Adaptive Learning to continue your life-long learning. The academic skills that you have developed as students at IUEA provides you scaffolding on which you have to build the tower of your career.
I will provide you with an overview of the educational attainment and the job market supported by the labor statistics with a good news that many jobs are waiting for you all now that you have successfully earned your certificates, bachelors and master’s degrees conferred on you today by the esteemed senate of IUEA. I will also Introduce you to the brave new frontiers of the brainwave adaptive learning and how it can help in upskilling the workforce both in Uganda and East Africa. I will end with a call for action for the on-the-job training and education of the African workforce using a mobile location-based adaptive technology platform in collaboration with IUEA.
The Educational Statistics – Uganda and USA
Let’s start with some interesting statistics. The manpower survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicates that Education Monograph of 2017 shows that the literacy in Uganda is concentrated in the Urban centers. As we move North and towards the Eastern region, education is needed to develop a workforce that can participate in lifting the economy. While we need to improve literacy and educational attainment, the Manpower Survey of Uganda 2016-17 shows that there are significant number of job vacancies currently available that are looking for managers and professionals like yourselves. Bachelors’ and masters’ degrees are now required for most professional jobs. Technical and managerial jobs are growing in the public sector while technical, communication, and customer service are desired skills in the private sector.
Even in the United States, 25% of the population are high-school graduates, 20.4% of the population are some college with no degree completion, 26.4% bachelor’s degree, 7.5% master’s degree, and PhD degrees are only 1.8% of the total educated population over 25 years of age. Earning potential is directly correlated with educational attainment in the U.S. An associate’s degree (certificate) can command a salary of about $71,000/year while a master’s degree can command a salary of about $86,000/year. It is important to note that there is a significant difference in the salary of male and female employees for the same level of educational attainment. You will have to work hard to create a more equitable world.
We live in a highly competitive world and in a society that is hyper connected. You are now a part of the global workforce. With the global dominance of Google, Apple, Amazon providing e-commerce and social media provided by Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, we are now more connected with each other. The world has become a global village.
You are now competing not only with the graduating students of Africa but also with the students graduating in other continents and emerging economies, such as India, China and Brazil. The competition is now transatlantic between MIT and IIT and HBS and IIM and other emerging educational institutions across the globe. You need to make sure you upskill yourself as you join the workforce. The skills you have today will need honing at every turn of your professional career.
A good example is the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) project where I was closely involved with the development of five new masters’ programs for numerous Universities in Singapore as the Principal Educational Architect. This collaboration is partly responsible for the phenomenal technological success of Singapore as the ultimate Smart City of the world. Can we transform Kampala into the next leading Smart City at global scale with your help? The answer is a resounding YES.
The Knowledge Worker for a Hyperconnected World
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, educational systems have been primarily based on the skills required at factories that used steam power, internal combustion engines and electrical motors. The commercialization of the physical assets required a particular kind of industrial worker that had the physical skills needed by the production lines of steam engines for railways, internal combustion engines for the automotive and aviation industry, and electrical generators and motors for powering household electricity. As a result, educational systems were focused on creating workers that would work diligently at factories, producing goods and services for the consumption of the society.
However, the early 1990s witnessed the development of internet protocol by Tim Berners Lee – the birth of the world wide web that led to the development of a new kind of worker, now known as the knowledge worker. By early 1999 and 2000, there was a dot-com boom, followed by a dot-com bust in early 2002 to 2005, which ultimately led to the global recession in 2008. Loss of jobs followed by the correction of the economy was the result of the dot-com bubble.
Now we need knowledge workers, not industrial workers. With the advent of AI, most industrial jobs will be done by intelligent machines. We are now witnessing the dawn of the intelligent machines, which are challenging the skills of human beings, often achieving better and more accurate results. So where does that leave us, the mortal human beings, with our limitations of skills? What is the strategic advantage we human beings have? The answer lies in the creativity of the human brain.
The human brain is the most advanced computer that ever existed in the world, and the good news is that all of you today who have graduated from IUEA are in possession of one. What separates human beings from intelligent machines is that machines cannot compete with the ingenuity and creativity of the human brain. In fact, it is only the creativity of the human brain that has given rise to the age of intelligent machines! The world is smaller than ever and we are now a part of the global village which is being increasingly controlled by the intelligent machines. We need to produce data-driven knowledge workers to address the needs of today.
Therefore, as you join the life-long learning process, you need to be the new creative workforce of the future. Can you identify the creative leaders of the not too distant past?
Einstein, Gandhi, Picasso, and Igor Stravinsky are a few from the past. But who are the new creative leaders with significant impact on humanity and the way we operate today?
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg respectively created Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook with their creative thinking. Can you now imagine living without smart-phones like iPhone and Samsung, not using Microsoft Word, Google’s search engine? Can you imagine NOT posting your pictures on Facebook? This is the intended and unintended impact of creative solutions leading to a new kind of epidemic of screen addiction! How many of you are screen addicts?
What is creativity?
Creativity is a process of thinking outside-the-box with the educational foundation you have achieved and creating a new path that has not been travelled by anyone! You can travel on a beaten path or you can blaze a new trail with your creativity, you can invent new products, processes and lifestyles. For example, can you imagine living without cell-phones? Can you imagine not taking selfies? Or using a typewriter to write your term paper without Microsoft Office? The flying machine drawn by Leonardo da Vinci was an early attempt at achieving human flight. Half a millennium later, billions of people have access to airplanes as a mode of transportation.
Now that you have an education under your belt, here are some elements of creativity that you can use for inventing your own way to enrich the world. The three elements are: imagination, creativity, and innovation. Consider Einstein’s thought experiment when he imagined running at the speed of light, which he used to write the special theory of relativity, or the creative thinking of Picasso for representing conical and square lines to present emotions, or Gandhi’s invention of Satyagraha as a peaceful, non-violent yet very effective disobedience movement to resist and overthrow the tyranny of the British rule, or take for example the innovation of the symphonic compositions with rhythmic structures of Stravinsky!
The New Frontiers of Creative Learning
Now we turn to the new frontiers in the educational technology that allows creative thinking and learning. The mobile, augmented reality; collaborative, serious games; virtual reality, immersive learning, teleoperated experiments; adaptive learning with learning strategies; and finally the brainwave adaptive learning led to the first brain-computer interface that helps students learn fast and better. The variety of ways the human brain can receive educational content has for the first time made learning fun and exciting. The days of chalk-and-talk are nearly over and will now be replaced by learning that is adaptive, intelligent, and responsive to the needs of the individual learner.
While you all are privileged to receive the best education at IUEA in the classroom with able and learned teachers, there is a large population of workers stuck in the menial jobs who do not enjoy the prospect of moving up the economic ladder. I want to invite you all to help Uganda by upskilling the workforce including your own lifelong learning using the advances in education technology. What I mean by upskilling is that we add new skills while you are employed. As I mentioned earlier, you have to keep your skills updated and sharp to compete in this connected world. There are three goals – to provide you with an upgrade to your skills, to provide adaptive on-the-job training and education, and to accelerate the learning process.
The Learning Cube Pedagogical Framework
To this end we turn to the pedagogical framework that will allow us to create the learning that varies with learning media, strategy, interactivity and social construction to accommodate individual learning needs. We all are built differently, we think differently, we have different preferences, and yet we are subjected to one-size-fits-all education. I authored the learning cube pedagogy in 2004 and took the best practices of behaviorist, constructivist, and cognitivist learning strategies and lined them up from simplest to most complex on x-axis with multimedia – text, graphics, audio, video animation and simulations on y-axis and varied interactivity on z-axis. The fourth axis is the social interaction which may include discourse, discussion and presentations.
The five learning strategies as described by the cognitive psychology and learning theory literature are apprentice which is step-by-step learning; incidental which is case-study learning; induction, based on examples; deductive which centers interactive learning with clues and discovery; and learning with serious games. The courses that you have completed here can now be taught in five learning strategies with intelligent feedback on each assessment to improve your learning outcome.
Big Data Driven Adaptive Learning
In adaptive learning, a student is asked to take a learning strategies survey to identify the first learning strategy. Subsequently, the student is rotated through all five learning strategies and assessed to find which learning strategy works best. The assessment data and all clicks on the adaptive course are recorded and analyzed using a big data analytics engine. The detailed analytics is shared with the professor so they can understand the learning strategy preference of each student, adapting their lessons accordingly.
We then enable the adaptive courses on your mobile devices. As you join the workforce you can still upgrade your skills by registering to the online certificate and degree programs using your iPad and tablets for on-the-job education and training. We are focusing on STEM and have created over 50 learning apps for you to upgrade your skills in physics, math, and other science courses.
The Brainwave Adaptive Learning
Now we turn to the latest invention in the field of adaptive learning: brainwave adaptive learning. Our brains have billions of neurons, connected by trillions of synaptic connections. Any stimulation in the brain leads to electrical signals passing between neurons forming neural networks. The primary function of the brain is for motor activities which takes place at the base of the brain. The secondary function is to deal with emotional response, while the tertiary function is called executive function which is operated by the pre-frontal cortex, responsible for attention, decision-making, and anxiety.
Electrical pulses are continuously generated by neurons, passing through thousands of neurons creating a brainwave. These brainwaves can be recorded by the electroencephalogram, which is simply a listening device for brainwaves. There are five frequency bands for the brainwaves. Delta and theta waves represent sleep state so we focus on alpha, beta and gamma waves which represent the waking state of the human brain.
Now we ask learners to learn a new concept in five learning strategies offered by the adaptive learning platform and while a student is rotating through learning strategies – apprentice, incidental, inductive and deductive. We record the alpha, beta and gamma wave signals, perform the analysis to pinpoint the features that represent an optimal learning state, and analyze the data to find the best learning strategy within half an hour of testing!
The EEG headband is put on your forehead while you are learning on your iPad or any other wireless tablet, laptop or desktop. The headband is connected via low energy Bluetooth wireless connection to the Brainiak app which allows us to send signal to the cloud computing and get the result of the brainwave data in real time. With Brainwave Learning Strategies Aptitude Test (BLSAT), a learner knows what is his/her best learning strategy. Now with this information, you can use adaptive learning to accelerate learning and maximizing your learning outcome.
We conducted experiments with a large number of freshman Physics students at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and found a very strong correlation between the learning strategy identified by BLSAT and the best learning outcome of students.
We can now talk directly to your brain and identify numerous learning pathways to achive creative learning, and I encourage you to explore creative ways of learning with the brainwave adaptive learning process. Become the creative leaders in your profession and know that there is always a creative solution to any problem that you will face.
White House Initiative for Upskilling America
Under President Obama’s administration, we were invited to participate as a technology partner for the Upskilling America project which is still going strong. The goal of this project is to upgrade the skills of millions of workers across different economic sectors and provide them the opportunity to climb the economic ladder in their professions.
I am proposing a similar upskilling for the East African worker. By creating a collaboration between adaptive technology and the skill development content provided by IUEA, we can reach millions of workers on their mobile devices and deliver upskilling nano-adaptive apps.
Conclusions for Professional Success
In conclusion, creative teaching and learning will be central to your future growth as the productive members of the society.
Make sure you become lifelong learners, as this is only the beginning and not the end of your learning and professional careers ahead of you. My best wishes to you, and let the creativity begin. There is no challenge in life that you cannot overcome with a creative solution. Thank you!
About the Presenter:
Dr. Nishikant (Nish) Sonwalkar, (Sc. D., MIT)
Chair, Professional Development, MIT-COB
Co-Chairman, EdTech Group, MIT Enterprise Forum
Founder and President, IntellADAPT
Dr. Sonwalkar is regarded as a leading expert in the application of computers in education. He has conducted extensive research in hypermedia authoring, mobile learning, adaptive learning, and brain-based synaptic learning, advanced scientific visualization, database management systems, and computer simulation.
After receiving his doctoral degree from MIT in the area of Molecular Dynamics of Nano-Interfaces, he joined MIT as faculty in Mechanical Engineering, but his passion for technology-enabled education led him to become the founding director of Hypermedia Teaching Facility (Hypermedia Lab) at MIT and later he was appointed as the Principal Educational Architect of MIT.
As the Principal Educational Architect at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sonwalkar was key architect of the Singapore MIT Alliance. Dr. Sonwalkar developed several educational technologies and learning management systems in his former role as Director of the Hypermedia Teaching Facility, namely the MetaMosaic Interface and Hypermedia Instruction and Teaching Environment (HITE), as well as the Stellar Learning Platform which is currently used for over 800 courses at MIT and for courses deployed by Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI). He serves as the co-chair of the EdTech Circle at the MIT Enterprise Forum.
Dr. Sonwalkar has received numerous national awards for his significant contributions to technology-enabled education: the 2007 Innovative Excellence Award in Teaching and Learning, 2007 USDLA Award for Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the Field of Distance Learning, and the 2007 USDLA Platinum Award for Best Practices for On-line Distance Learning Programming.
Dr. Sonwalkar is a successful serial entrepreneur and has successfully launched several companies, such as IntellADAPT, SunDensity, Power2Peer, and the Sonwalkar Institute. He also co-founded the LearnQuest Academy of Indian Music and is a performing artist who plays Indian drums and has produced Jazz and Fusion music. He is Producer of the Multicultural Music Magazine, a monthly TV magazine for Public Access Television.
Dr. Sonwalkar is the author of numerous articles, journal papers, and books, including “Fluid Mechanics Hypercourse” MIT Press, 1996, and “Changing the Interface of Education with Revolutionary Learning technology,” iUniverse, 2004.
Selected List of Publications:
- Sonwalkar, N. Owen, B.” How Adaptive Learning Technology Can Help Transform US STEM Education,” Edudemic, April 22, 2015
- Sonwalkar, N. “Cloud-based Adaptive Learning, Encyclopedia of Online Learning, Sage Publishing, NY, 2014
- Sonwalkar N., Flores, J.G. and Gardner, M., “Designing for Quality and Measuring Quality in Online Learning,” USDLA Research Report prepared for Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, March, 2010
- Sonwalkar, N., “The Paradigm Shift for Adult Education: From Educational Slavery to Learning Freedom of Human Brain with Synaptic Learning”, in Online Education and Adult Learning: New Frontiers for Teaching Practice, Eds. Terry Kidd, IGI Global Publishing, Hershey, PA, September, 2009
- Sonwalkar, N. “Adaptive Individualization: The Next Generation of Online Educational Systems”, New Horizons, Volume 16, No. 1, pp 44-47, 2008
- Sonwalkar, N. “Adaptive Learning: A Dynamic Methodology for Effective Online Learning,” Distance Learning, Volume 4, Number 1, April, 2007
- Sonwalkar, N. “Technology for Adaptive Learning: From One Size-Fits-All to Adaptive Individualization,” Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR), Research Bulletin, Volume 2005, Issue 7, April5, 2005
- Sonwalkar, N. “Changing the Interface of Education with Revolutionary Learning Technologies”, iUniverse, New York, 2004 — Book
- Fay, J. and Sonwalkar, N., “Fluid Mechanics Hypercourse CD-ROM”, MIT Press, 1996