After Hours

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Kipper ties, flares, big hair - tech takes education back to the future

We're witnessing the end of mediocre lectures and the start of just-in-time education...

Early BB studio

Since the early days of Open University broadcasts by the BBC, we now have a multitude of tech alternativesPhoto: The Open University

Written at a hotel in Dartmouth, Devon, and dispatched to via a coffee shop wi-fi service at 6.2Mbps in Taunton, Somerset, the next day.

In the 1970s I would attend college during the day and watch Open University (OU) lectures on BBC television at home in the early hours. These programmes were free to air and available across the UK - and a revolutionary route to education at the time.

As a science, mathematics and engineering student, I found the OU a rich seam of additional explanation and enlightenment.

Big hair, kipper ties, flared trousers, tight shirts and cardboard animations didn't detract from the learning process.

And it was clear that the OU lecturers had put in an awful lot of effort to communicate effectively during their TV time slots.

My other streams of augmented learning involved dropping into lecture courses to which I had never been assigned, but which were nonetheless of potential interest to me. And in those days lecturers and administrators didn't keep a close tally of who exactly was in a particular room or lecture theatre.

I would also hang out with those individuals and groups doing interesting and challenging things across a wide range of disciplines.

Although I never formally signed up for any OU course, I was an avid early-morning TV student, and years later - during the late 1980s - I joined the ranks of professionals who took time out to teach through that very same medium. But by this time I was getting a sense that something new and fundamental was...


Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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