With the rapid popularisation of the micro-class, MOOCs, and flipped learning, digital learning is accelerating learning methods and school education operation modes and promoting rapid changes in human education. Digital learning resources, digital learning environments, and learning support services are three key factors in digital learning. How to build visual learning resources and promote global knowledge sharing and mutual learning are the main issues facing the future development and construction of digital learning resources.

Professor Nicholas Negroponte from MIT Media Lab wrote a well-known book entitled Being Digital, in which he told a story: If a surgeon from the 19th century took a time machine to today's hospital operating room, he would be bewildered by what he saw, because modern technology has changed everything in the operating room. But if a teacher from the 19th century took the same time machine to come to today's classroom, he could immediately take over the class from his fellow and continue teaching. He thus used his illustration to mock the conservative and unchanging education system.

Reflection on Education from the Two Great Pyramids

The great futurist of the United States Alvin Toffler once predicted that the 3rd tide of digital development would be information explosion, and that we will be surrounded by information. We have to say that Toffler’s prediction has come true. Now, for most of us, the last thing we do before we go to bed is to check our mobile phone, and the first thing we do when we get up in the morning is to check our mobile phone again. In this information explosion era, what has happened to education?

Let us illustrate it using two pyramids – a knowledge pyramid and a learning pyramid.

The hierarchy of the pyramid consists of four levels from bottom to top: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. For example, 209 is obviously a meaningless number. However, "in 209 BC, Cheng Sheng and Wu Guang started an uprising in Daze Village, Hubei Province." In this sentence, "209" has become data for us. If we go on to describe the uprising, saying "the uprising changed the fate of the first dynasty in Chinese history, and this change has shaped a periodic law of long-term development of Chinese history." This statement is classified as knowledge. To say further, "China is facing a big problem - how to get escape the periodic law." The core and key of how to escape the periodic law is the wisdom. According to statistics from the Internet Data Centre (IDC), data on the Internet grows by 50% annually, and will double every two years. By 2020, it will hold a total of 35ZB data. We call it an information explosion, but what has exploded is only the data/information, not knowledge, nor wisdom.

In the face of the changing times of data information and the exponentially increasing amount of data, what should our educators give to the children? This is a very simple choice, but in reality, people often make the wrong choice. In the face of endless data and information, the teachers ask children to memorise and recite. This kind of education mode, in fact, has already deviated from the essence of education and moved in the most horrible and stupid direction. This kind of fear and stupidity is not brought about by the information explosion, but caused by our wrong choices. The most urgent choice that we face is what should be taught to the next generation, rather than blindly passing down knowledge. In the information explosion era, we should adopt appropriate education methods and means to impart knowledge and inspire wisdom.

We now introduce the second pyramid, the learning pyramid. Maine scholars did an interesting experiment to check information retention in students 24 hours after they took part in various teaching activities. Test result showed that the retention rate from teaching was 5%, reading 10%, audio-visual combination 20%, demonstration 30%, discussion 50%, practice 75%. To present to others or to immediately apply what we've learnt and put it into practice can help us retain as much as 90% of the information. The results of the experiment show that it is better to let the students explain what they've learnt to their parents rather than passively do homework. We should reflect on the present way of teaching. Currently, our teaching method is just asking the students to endlessly memorise information, data, and then take a test. This way of teaching has even extended from middle school, high school and on to university.

Distance education also cannot get rid of this whole cultural background. RTVUs have "five unifications", and if we compare "five unifications" with the learning pyramid, we will clearly see which teaching method is effective. Even today's MOOCs cannot escape from these traditional teaching methods. If we don’t adopt reading, audio-visual, demonstration, discussion, practice and other such teaching methods, we will continue to go back to the most backward and inefficient way of teaching.

Meaningful Learning in the Digital Age is the Right Way

The wave of information technology and data explosion will not stop here. Take Google's Digital Library plan as an example. Since the plan was implemented, 30 million books have been digitised. Currently, there are about 33 million books in the Library of Congress, and about 26 million books in the National Library of China. In the near future, Google can certainly apply current technology to digitise books all around the world. Until then, research, including our current way of thinking, will change.

In the United States, two people use Google digitisation library for research. They compare the number of occurrences of two famous people, “Armstrong” and “Aldrin”, in the digitised books in order to compare their relative fame. The results are not important, but their research method well illustrates that when all human knowledge is digitised, accumulated knowledge can be presented in highly accurate and visual formats.

After we truly enter the information society, what is the key problem? It is learning. But so far, our understanding of learning is still very backward, not only in theory, but also in practice. We haven't even figured out what learning is.

Some people say that learning is chaotic, some say that learning is a kind of activity, others say that learning is a kind of social negotiation, or social construction. Everyone has their views of learning. For us, it is not important to figure out what learning is, but what is meaningful. Meaningful learning is active, intentional, constructional, true, and cooperative. When we use these dimensions to judge the learning of today's students and our own learning, we find out that most time we are not really learning. It seems that we are restricted by a system which makes us less competitive, less flexible, and lacks innovation. Therefore, meaningful learning is a priority for today's society. We should not neglect learning due to the convenient and available data and information, nor should we ignore the real goal of learning for the sake of an antiquated system or test scores. In the digital age, meaningful learning is fundamental.

Open Sharing is the Future Trend of Digital Learning Resources

How do we change that? What is the future development trend of digital learning resources?

Human education is evolving. In an agrarian society, the typical form of human education is a tutorial system, in which "master + disciple" is the core model. In an industrial society, the education mode adapts to become institutional school education. The core structure of school education is "teachers+teaching materials+students". In today's information age, the mainstream education mode and learning mode should be digital learning. Whatever form it takes, traditional face-to-face school or the emerging open university, digital learning is an important component.

The core of digital learning is resource-based learning. It is said that 90,000 primary schools in the United States adopted the math class of Khan Academy, playing Khan Academy's courseware, and that the teachers' role is to serve as a teaching assistant in tutoring students. Digital learning brings a lot of possibilities, which require that we have new conditions and new technologies, especially new education resources. As we enter the digital learning age, we need to offer teachers visual materials, rather than a one-size-fits all curriculum. It is impossible for all students to watch the same course.

Currently, National E-Learning Resource Centre built by the OUC is committed to offering three categories of basic resources: micro-course, knowledge element, and the virtual simulation experiment. Let's take a look at the three characteristics of the micro-course. First, it takes about 5 to 15 minutes to focus on one teaching topic. Second, it has a clear teaching goal, teaching strategy and teaching evaluation. Third, it uses one example to illustrate similar knowledge, cultivating students' thinking ability. Our "five-minute micro-lecture" programme has now launched nearly 22,000 micro-courses. Any teacher can use it in their face-to-face course, their own online course, or e-materials.

Knowledge element. I divide it into several aspects: First, it is the minimum unit in the knowledge content of representation teaching and cannot be separated. Second, knowledge element and micro-course are completely different. It does not have a teaching goal, teaching strategy, or teaching evaluation. It just hits the point, explaining the knowledge point and not doing any relevant comparison and deduction. Third, it is represented in the form of image and graphical media. When the knowledge element is built, teachers can make use of visual representation at any time when confronted with difficulty. They can take it as the best teaching tool and teaching material. Not everyone needs to develop all the teaching resources.

Virtual simulation experiment. Teachers themselves don’t have to be involved in such development work . I believe that no one individual teacher can do it. The core of future education is to change the teachers' independent and individual work into integrated work. Enterprises and institutions make the basic materials, and the teachers integrate them. I believe that the future wisdom classroom and information classroom must be reorganised and restructured. Groups will be engaged in processing different material products in the different areas, and then reconstructing the basic teaching resources such as micro-course, knowledge element, and virtual simulation experiment. When these teaching resources can be compiled like an encyclopedia or a dictionary that everyone can access anywhere, the role of the teacher will undergo a great change.

By Shan Congkai, E-Learning