Future education: The internet is just a tool

An interview with Skolkovo professor Pavel Luksha about the challanges of online education

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An interview with Pavel Luksha

An interview by Elmira Kakabayeva

Today education had passed the offline border and feels very at home in the virtual space. This change made education more customized and client-oriented. Additionally, after the Internet had infused with the sphere of education, the main actors – a student and a teacher – have changed, as well as the place where they meet.

What will happen to the customized educational processes in future. What physical and nonphysical functions classrooms, campuses, and universities will deliver? What kind of people will study and teach there, how these processes will be controlled by the government and what regions in the world are ready to make a breakthrough into the future of customized education.

Pavel Luksha, a Professor of Practice at the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, who has been working on the development of the education system in cooperation with the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, answered these and many other questions.
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Online education became a huge topic for discussion. What kind of education or specializations have a tendency to stay more offline and what will be transferred in the online sphere?

This very much depends on whether computers will be able to get closer to the world of physical reality in which we interact. In our forecast, made by Agency for Strategic Initiatives, we assume that a person and a computer will consistently converge with each other over the next 10 years. Thus, the ‘hybrid reality’ will be the key term in the future of education and this means that education process will happen through ‘live’ or ‘human-​human’ learning, through computers, and through augmented reality – all at the same time. We will be able to enrich the educational space with elements that we need at a particular time on a particular topic. For example, we could fetch up in this room every book and tutorial required for studying astronomy, and start moving, zooming in and out the planets in this space.

In addition, the sphere of student knowledge and skills changes significantly. Previously, a person had been charged with an encyclopedia of knowledge, and in addition to this they had to know all the specifics of their profession. Today it is more important to give students the possibility to navigate and collect the right information. To do this, their mind still has to be loaded with encyclopedia, but they do not have to remember all the content of each entry. It is much more important for them to grasp the structure of this encyclopedia, and at each particular moment to pull out the appropriate knowledge. In this sense, the value of the knowledge component will decline more and more and the skills will grow. Then, the next question can be raised: which of them can be trained in contact with a computer, and which only in interaction with other people.


The place of education in human circle of life

Can you give some specific examples of the online and offline trainings?

There is a ‘flipped classroom’ model – an inverted class where the main idea is based not on the process of transferring knowledge, but on an the interaction during the discussions of the studied material. In this class model students come to school or a university and discuss together what they have understood from the material and exchange their views. At the same time teacher starts their collaborative project work, so they don’t just study the material but immediately solve the tasks based on the gained knowledge. And this is a much more effective educational process than pumping up knowledge into students heads. As for skills training, professional and standard ones, there definitely are possibilities to learn them online and through a hybrid reality. And this has already begun, not massively, but in some practices.

Obviously, such subjects as working with data, for example, programming, can fully move online. But the medical profession, for example, cannot exist without practice. However, there is a common model of online learning, which can include a study in complex neurosurgery and work online and offline using special educational simulators. There are specialists who make such global master classes with the help of simulators: for instance, the surgeon can physically be in the US, students of several universities of China are located in their special rooms with a simulator of a part of the brain. The student must correctly make the cut, and the professor remotely monitors and comments. Or welding training, which we have studied a month ago in Germany: the welding machine is made completely in augmented reality as well as the imitation of the burner. Students in 3D glasses conduct different types of seam welding. The computer immediately gives feedback to them, highlighting the errors depending on the level of the student’s preparation. No master is needed in this situation. In this sense, any standard skills can be transferred to the IT system, and it is not entirely online, I want to emphasize, it’s also an offline process.

These examples sound so exciting as if they were taken from some game or IT EXPOs.

I must say that IT training is not a fashion, it is a possibility to increase the productivity either by cutting the cost of the education process, or by broadening the access to knowledge. Every physical auditorium has a limit, for example, 100 people. But if we give the teacher an open online course, he can teach 100,000.

The educational space will be largely copied from the best campuses of IT companies

However, I must admit that the transition to online education will not happen in the nearest 2030 years. Yes, we can upload all knowledge online, yes, we can substitute a teacher with a mobile device or a simulator, remove the person from the communication. Is it always necessary? No, it is not. In addition, there is resistance of the institutions themselves. This is related to the specifics of their synchronization with the governmental standards or labor markets. Technologies are ready, but the people using these technologies are not.

The space in which online education process happens will probably change. Is there a possibility that universities will turn into smart offices where students will spend all day in study and work?

This is one of the ideas that we promote in our foresight project Future Agendas For Global Education. The educational space organization will be largely copied from the best campuses of IT companies . Thus, the offices of Facebook, Amazon or Google can become a prototype of future university campuses. Yes, people need to be kept in the learning and working process as much as possible. And the boundaries between work, studying and even private life constantly dissolve. Students should be able to get as much experiences as possible to support their basic educational process. During the research we have analyzed a model of the campus and came to a 3-​component model, which we call ‘daisy’. In this model all the traffic of processes come from the periphery to the center and back.


The ‘daisy’ campus: from specialized periphery to the common serendipity

On the periphery there are very specific types of activities: for example, the laboratories that deal with biotechnologies, robotics, manufacturing platforms, startup offices, etc. They need to be converged into clusters with communication and training – for example, engineering schools, design schools etc. These clusters are the platforms that we call a ‘community of practice’ that has a certain common meta-​activity. The ‘community of practice’ is a key category in education, people gather there around the live practices that they share.

The student cannot be expelled from the physical educational space. They need to be there as long as possible

And in the middle we have a ‘serendipity place’. In any campus a café, library, or a central square plays this role. This space is empty by definition and everyone can occupy it. This leads to a competition for this place, because all public attention of the educational institution is focused there. Here is the 3-​layered system that is the future campus.

Looks very offline…

Yes, and again to support the reversed trend of the online education, the largest American universities expand their campuses because they realize that they have to engage students even more. And this campus has to work 24 hours, it should have a wide variety of services that allow students to work and study day and night, in case someone gets a brilliant idea at 3 am, you should have access to the campus during the night. And it is sad that Russian universities do not work at night – they close at 8 p.m. and a student can’t come and take an audience and make a discussion there. They need to book it a month in advance with the dean. The student cannot be expelled from the physical educational space. They need to be there as long as possible. There is no need to lure people to the online space because Internet is a subsidiary activity. The main thing is that newly created educational space should be creatively enriched for sharing ideas and knowledge with each other.

In process of mapping the term ‘Future Urbanism’ we found a lot of different trends, and one of them is surveillance. As we all know, knowledge is power. In your opinion, what kind of relations would happen between government and education in terms of surveillance?

Today it is easy to get knowledge about everything. Because now in Europe or the United States police could come for typing of certain words in the search box. Unfortunately, surveillance already is a reality. And the question is, who would hold the data. There are three players: the state, corporations and the civil society – people themselves. The question of the future for the state is in the distribution of responsibility between all three.

Today, the state is investing a lot in the ability to stay in the new world. Yes, it is a dying dinosaur, but this dinosaur is definitely not willing to die. Therefore, the 21st century will be the century of struggle for a new model of the state. There are 2 scenarios: total control of a small elite over the large number of the population, and this is already happening, or a democratic model, in which a group of free citizens control themselves, which is closer to the anarchist ideal.

Education in the 21st century would be the instrument of the intergovernmental policy

Concerning education, it is possible that large corporations will try to capture the global education market and most likely in an alliance with leading universities, which in their turn will be under state control. And the state would be managing these platforms in it’s own interest. For example, the Coursera case, which received the prescription from the US State Department last year to deny access to such countries as Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

As a conclusion I can say that education in the 21st century would be the instrument of the intergovernmental policy.

Can you name the countries that can make a big breakthrough in the future in the context of education?

First, I wouldn’t use the category of ‘country’ in the discussion of breakthrough opportunities. The main territory unit for growth in terms of the educational ecosystem is a region – a specific area that people can drive around during one day. If people cannot drive around the territory in one day, there are no long connections between the educational services and thus the opportunity to build a complete system can be lost.

Therefore, one of the candidates for a breakthrough in the field of education is Singapore. A city-​country. Singapore has many problems, but it has just as many strong solutions, and a lot of advantages to make a breakthrough.

If we talk about regions, I really look forward to the San Francisco Bay Area, and we even actively help them make this breakthrough by working with them on a level of creation of the educational ecosystem. In addition, we have identified other clusters in the United States except California. Japan also has a chance for a breakthrough, although there are many problems connected to the balance of tradition: the elderly people who think in outdated terms also make decisions on development. There’s also South Korea and Brazil.

What parameters do you use to identify these regions?

The level of development of the educational ecosystem. We are scanning regions within the framework of global foresight in education. A big part of the project is to identify educational ecosystems with potential growth and help them get to the next level. Our task in this project is not only to fix such regions, but also help them to get ‘completed’.

If we continue with the list of the regions, in Europe, we believe in the Eindhoven – Leuven – Aahen Triangle cities with the highest density of Research & Development in Europe.

In Russia there are interesting points of growth as well, where breakthrough workable projects were identified. There are clusters where the complete educational ecosystem can be developed.


Yes, it is very possible, in 57 years. Now there are Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, School of Management, School of Economics, a kindergarten and a school, a community club, and there will be 10 000 people who will live in that space and for whom all the educational ecosystem will be built.

There is also Tomsk, a city of students with six major universities. It is theoretically possible to build a global educational cluster in Vladivostok on the Russkiy Island, involving a large number of Asian students. There is a new project on the Baikal lake, Baikalsk city, which is supported by several development institutions. I think we have candidates for development. And if the state supports them, with those clusters other areas would grow. Everything will depend on Russia’s future state model.