Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tech and the future of education - what the next 30 years will bring

“OK students, boot up your hololens projections and get ready to share with the class. The topic for the project was “Colonizing a Comet”. As you know, the recent news of the nanomanufacturing being conducted by our team on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko was very inspiring! I look forward to seeing what you’ve created.”

Sound far fetched? In the next 30 years, we are going to see advances in technology that will dramatically transform education all over the globe - how content is created, how it is shared, how it is archived and the level of impact it has. The evolution of learning models will advance society, culture and business in totally unimagined ways.

Tech advances taking place daily are changing how people interact not only in educational settings but much more broadly - how they share ideas, how they create, how businesses are run, how children play. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be learning in a very different environment over the course of the coming decades.

The next few years

As forward thinkers like John Seely Brown have already described, learning no longer occurs only in a “school” setting but rather all the time everywhere in today’s global digital village. Traditional educational settings are but one node on the broader ecosystem of learning environments where this process - writ large - takes place.

All learning interaction can now have a digital component. The idea of a classroom being a fixed place is outdated and arcane. While there will always be physical locations whose main purpose is to provide a setting for human interaction based on idea exchange and dialogue, the days of the historical classroom are being replaced by the global digital agora.

As technology makes geography history, students are no longer limited by what they can learn in a physical space. Using various tools that simulate and expand real world interaction - augmented reality, holographic projections, 3D TV, virtual worlds and others yet to be invented - learners are increasingly able to find knowledge across an ever expanding universe of resources that are form-factor and location agnostic. Looking for a 15th illuminated manuscript or an Instagram photo from the ISS, a Neolithic cave painting in Indonesia or the Pope’s latest Tweet? It’s all available 24/7 on almost any device. And the amount of information being created and made available is growing at a staggering pace.

near term: what to look for...

 Mobile to wearables

Where laptop computers and tablets once held sway, we are seeing a dramatic shift toward mobile and wearable technologies. Smart watches can connect devices and facilitate capture and transfer of information. The continually decreasing viscosity of data makes learning from non-traditional tech devices much more viable. A range of info can be sent to and from wearable devices - perhaps you might take a course remotely with your watch as one of the tools you use to interact with the information and the students and teachers. Video conferencing on a wearable is not far off.

Eventually we will see smart wearables that project 3D images - either above the device or onto a nearby surface. For certain use cases and content areas, this will be an ideal way to share and learn. Think of a mechanic in a tight spot under a vehicle having the schematic of a wiring harness projected holographically out of his watch or headset or wrench.

Ultra hi def mobile video

More and more educational settings are taking advantage of TelePresence or video conferencing capabilities. As this solution gets simpler, more stable and less expensive, tools like Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts allow video interaction around the globe in real time at basically no cost.

“Come on everyone, sit down on the blankets here in the yurt and turn on the screen - Professor Smith from MIT is sending video from his handheld to teach us how Mongols conquered all of China and established the Yuan Dynasty over 800 years ago.”


 MOOCs (massively open online courses) and SPOCs (small private online courses) are already transforming the way learning is conducted. Ever since Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor, offered a free course on Artificial Intelligence in 2011 and over 160K people signed up, the idea has been taken up by the likes of Harvard, MIT and Yale. Not to mention the fact that major corporate users including Microsoft and LinkedIn are exploring this powerful model in private sector settings.

This new model is making significant inroads into how education is delivered on a massive scale to interested learners on the increasingly borderless and flattened planet, on any device.

Students that would never have been able to connect to the smartest teachers in the world due to lack of funding, inability to travel or other reasons, can now experience and learn from the best - by logging in from almost anywhere.

What’s ahead...and way ahead

Implantable/ingestable electronics

 Millennial and digital natives - people who never took a breath without the Internet being available - will be early adopters when it comes to this new family of electronics.

People are already having chips put under their skin, similar to what is done with dogs. But this new breed will be two way and synchronous, providing real-time connectivity. Think of it as Bluetooth for your forearm. Information will be loaded into your cerebral cortex from transmitting devices attached to data sources - all pre-selected by the user.

We will also see ingestible devices - tiny, pill-shaped nanomachines - that are swallowed or injected in order to generate specific learning experiences. Want to see how it felt to be in Shackleton’s team when they were trapped in the ice in the Antarctic in 1915? Swallow the pill containing the neuroelectric data and you can experience that specific historical event, react to it and gain insight and perspective never before possible.

“OK class, here is today’s learning tablet - and a glass of water to help you swallow it. Get ready to feel cold - we are going to the Antarctic for an hour!. The effect will wear off by the time you are ready to go home.”

Augmented and additive reality

 Augmented reality will become a standard for creating and sharing blended, partially immersive learning experiences. A class will put on augmented reality headsets and have a *learning journey* together.

The Microsoft HoloLens is setting the stage for this. When ready for prime time, this headset-based device will allow users to create 3D objects holographically and then 3D print them for further study. Gone are the renditions of the solar system created from painted foam balls stuck together with pipe cleaners. You will 3D print all the planets at whatever scale you like and then walk around them and then and climb over them.

These devices overlay data, images and video onto what people are seeing in the real world. Information about objects will appear simply by focusing on them. Historical data on a building will be listed when you look at it - the year it was built, name of the architect, socio-historical context. Pre-designed environments based on specific topics will allow teacher and students to walk through a medieval castle or stroll along the Great Wall as it was being built. All the while providing relevant information, directed by the learner.

Immersive and virtual reality

 The increasing power and availability of virtual reality devices like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard will allow learning environments that are completely immersive and richly experiential in ways that were never before possible.

Current uses are pretty crude - like riding on a Ferris Wheel or sliding over a cliff into the sea. But more and more real world learning use cases are being developed. A doctor will be able to walk through a virtual human body followed by new surgeons, describing what musculature to be sensitive to and what blood vessels to avoid in order to conduct a successful operation.

Teachers will take students back in time to visit an historic event. Educational content will be created to be experiential and collaborative, not one to many. 

“Everyone put on your personal virtual reality headset and strap into your framework. Get ready to follow me - we are heading to 13th Century England to meet King John at Runnymede and watch him sign the Magna Carta. Careful - don’t step in the horse poop!”

neural science and what to learn

Advances in neuroscience and nanotech will allow learners to connect directly to their physiology/neural wiring.

The capability will exist to conduct analysis on current and future in-demand skills across the globe - analyzing situations to identify gaps and opportunities driven by economic, cultural, political and social trends.

Then, projecting your own skills portfolio onto these models, you receive insight into how your current and anticipated skills will translate to real world roles over the course of a 100+ year lifespan.

“This week-end, I am conducting my quarterly Antenna Analysis. After entering data from my current TalentScan showing my skills and proclivities, I’ll map this to the model of trending data showing where the planet is heading from a social, political, cultural and business standpoint. The result will be a mapping report that identifies any gaps in my current skills and ones I will need to acquire to be successful in the ever morphing socio-business landscape.”

bigger picture impact

Get ready for new tech approaches to redefine learning in ways that will look like magic to those of us sitting here in 2015. Your grandchildren will using tools and accessing information in ways and on a scale we can hardly imagine. Technologies that don't exist today will be commonplace in 2050.

These technology breakthroughs will transform how information is distributed but more importantly will accelerate the progress of humankind. These exciting advances will foster creativity, drive innovation and facilitate societal and cultural progress.

Learn on!

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