Principles For Learning in the Digital Age

Back in June we reported on an article published in Forbes online magazine which featured the ideas of Sebastian Thrum who had declared that

“He wants to ­foment a teaching revolution in which the world’s best instructors conduct highly interactive online classes that let them reach 100,000 students simultaneously and globally.”

Today we’re taking a look at a feature article in the ‘technology’ section of The Chronicle of Higher Education. (

We tweeted about this article a couple of days ago, and said it’s a must-read piece for everyone interested in education – which ought to be, er, everyone. The title tells us immediately that it’s about much more than ‘technology’.

A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age

The document, drafted by a dozen educators brought together by the MOOC pioneer Sebastian Thrun, proposes a set of “inalienable rights” that the authors say students and their advocates should demand from institutions and companies that offer online courses and technology tools.

We should pay attention to what this group says about the rights of learners, and pay even more attention to what they say about principles for learning. These principles should apply to everything that goes on in every school and college in this age of global connectivity.

This is what The Chronicle has to say about this Bill of Rights:

A dozen educators met last month in Palo Alto, Calif., to discuss the future of higher education. They had been convened at the epicenter of technological innovation in higher education by Sebastian Thrun, a pioneer of massive open online courses, and yet the task at hand had nothing to do with software or strategy. It had to do with citizenship.

The Philadelphia Convention, it was not. But the 12 educators, many of them well known in online-education circles, did manage to draft a document that they hope will serve as a philosophical framework for protecting the interests of students as online education, propelled and complicated by the rise of MOOCs, hurtles into a new phase.

Mr. Thrun, the founder of the MOOC provider Udacity, said his involvement in drafting the document does not amount to a pledge or endorsement by his company. And despite the legislative reference in the document’s title, the “bill of rights” does not have regulatory teeth.

Still, its authors hope the document will frame the standards and expectations that guide universities and their constituents as online tools and platforms become part and parcel of traditional higher education.

Reorienting the Conversation

The best-known signatory of the “bill of rights” is also perhaps its most surprising. To the extent that the document regards for-profit purveyors of online education as a potential threat to students’ rights, Mr. Thrun would seem to be the subject of the authors’ demands, in addition to being an author himself.

The Udacity founder said he had no objection to that. He said he wanted to reorient the conversation about MOOCs to focus on pedagogy rather than economics.

“There’s a whole bunch of universities that use online education as a cash cow,” said Mr. Thrun. “One of the questions that has arisen is that, if you can actually save money online, can you pass along those savings to the student?”

Andrew Ng, a co-founder of Coursera, another for-profit MOOC provider, said he too was pleased by the idea of articulating and respecting the rights of online students.

“The idea of listing some of the rights we’d like to confer to students is a good one,” he said via e-mail. “Fortunately, today’s MOOC movement is already led by many of the world’s top universities, which are used to serving students and respecting students’ rights.”

The ‘Principles’ section of the document begins at the end of the third page of the PDF. We suggest paying particular attention to what it says under these headings:

Global Contribution
Hybrid Learning
Formative Assessment


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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