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High expectations from the future of education?

January 15, 2018

Putting their imagination to the test has been a favorite exercise of technology passionate professionals since the computers appeared. Not always have these utopian projections of the future came true, but then again, we are living times where technology takes big steps right underneath our eyes. High expectations are hard to live up to, yet perhaps our times shall meet them.

In education, the 2020 threshold has been explored lately in terms of what innovations would bring into the learning process. Devices and connectivity are on top of the list when it comes to imagining how will the education look like in the nearby future. Enthusiasts picture a different information flow, enhanced human capabilities and breaking boundaries, while skeptics warn about not losing the essentials of developing the humans of tomorrow – person-to-person connections, compassion, emotional sharing and other elements that provide a proper emotional and psychological bed for knowledge.

Let’s explore together some of the proposed educational changes that should materialize around 2020.

Classrooms extended beneath their physical boundaries

As FastCompany puts it, although this phenomenon has not unwrapped so far, it is only logical that students should be able to be part of learning groups regardless of their location. Online schooling is still timid, due to various factors, but with an entire generation of digital natives growing up, some of them are bound to become teachers and to naturally import digital connectivity into the teaching processes.

Virtual collaborative spaces are apparently a step that should take the educational model out of its (still used) industrial revolution frame and methodologies and into the digital revolution model.

The classroom activities will receive a welcomed supplement via remotely coordinated team activities, practical challenges and experimentation. Multiple-sources information, enabled by the right digital equipment, would reshape the schedule and the way teachers and students communicate and interact.

Teachers-related high expectations– virtual educators or not?

Virtual assistants are on the cusp nowadays, although they aim for the business environment. Taking the place of heterogeneous systems or of human stuff, these software programs gain more power via machine learning, and their capabilities increase exponentially in relation with the data and data-refinement criteria they are fed.

However, will virtual assistants be fit one day for taking over the job of a teacher? The answer is uncertain as of yet, due to the complex activity an educator must handle. A teacher’s activity is hardly a preset, repetitive one, although it has to cover more tedious tasks too. There are acceptable nuances, for example grading tests is an activity that could be performed by an intelligent software program, as long as the tests are configured in a way that allows a simple check based on algorithms to establish the way a student performed.

The problem is that mathematical tests do not give the best results when applied to human sciences. Gradually today’s students are losing skills, such as correct spelling, comprehensive reading and being able to write cursive, and it is an entire debate here if these skills are actually obsolete or they actually do matter in the human development process. Raising extremely specialized professionals might be a sign of progress or it might prove a fatal trap when ending up with adults that are able to think only inside tiny imaginary boxes.

It is therefore widely accepted that the human factor in teaching is extremely important. For some, it is mysteriously important, since the same apparent teaching tasks easily stand being performed by machines, yet with less impressive results. For others, this is no mystery at all since it is in the human nature to best learn from other humans, and the process is more complex than meets the eye.

However sad it may sound, the answer to “virtual or human?” might one day rely on a simple calculus, and the cheaper version would win the extremely important task of imparting knowledge to future adults. It remains to be seen.

Curricula and diplomas would have to respond to the workforce field needs

With a big shift in professions and skills requirements waiting to happen, the current curricula is yet another decade-long debate. How to adapt in order to provide real abilities to the students, which would allow them to find their place easily in the ever-changing labor market?

Making use of the remote connectivity and all the new digital possibilities, it is quite possible for learning institutions to adapt by offering custom-tailored study packages. Mixing and matching resources, be they on-premises or remote, it will be important to configure adaptable packages of information while developing base skills. Combining the skills with the information should result in useful sets of capabilities that actually help students on their way into their professional life. Presumably, learning will become continuous, since adults also have to take in new technologies, new data and new skills in order to keep up with the tech development pace.

Complex, flexible offerings are what the future expects from schools. Being able to remain efficient and consistent while adopting this type of flexibility is no ordinary challenge, but the more gifted education professionals should stand the chance of making the changes go smoothly for their institutions and their students.

A two speed educational system

Two speed is one way of putting it, perhaps multi-speed education would be more accurate. Since a 2015 ISTE report placed wearable technology as an educational tool set to predominate by 2020, we can only wonder how will the students have universal access to devices and broadband by then. Since rural broadband in USA, for example, is still lagging behind, in times when tech giants experiment with solutions for free worldwide Internet, is the expectancy too high when compared to the realities?

Working connectivity, as we know it has two sides: Internet access and compatible hardware. Wearable technologies are not yet affordable for just any individual willing to adopt a modern digital lifestyle. Cheaper versions just cannot reproduce all the necessary capabilities. It’s just that technology is not there yet. It is expensive to have the right tools, and although efforts are being made to reduce the costs of the necessary components, result may still be far. It will also need another conceptual shift from the part of the producers – companies who mass-produce good, similar technology would one-day counterbalance companies that now make their money from expensive, high-end products.

How about those who do not want to join in, when it comes to being connected? Can education make it mandatory for all students to use wearables and be available 24/7, part of a network of devices? If we set the cost matter aside, what about the free choice? Surely, now students who attend standardized schools all agree to take part of a certain system, to become acknowledged with certain notions, to use educational materials and to submit themselves to certain rules. Nevertheless, is employing technology and being connected even outside the school limits the same, or not?

In the case not all will see eye to eye when it comes to accepting technology in student’s lives, or when it comes to the outcome of an always-connected learning process (or when some simply cannot afford a certain technological standard), it is obvious how the education of the future faces the challenge of at least two speeds, two types of formation and development.

Between fascination and anxiousness, the education of the future might bring more surprises than we expect. The level of denial is the main element that postpones change – denying the fact that the current state of facts cannot cope with the new social requirements, denying individual talents and peculiarities that need a differentiated educational approach, denying the fact that not all students can afford the necessary level of technology adoption. All these delay a full frontal approach of how the future learning will look like.