Forecasting the Future of Education

by Staff Writers

An upbeat and hopeful video about what the future of education could look like, posted by the New Brunswick Department of Education, provides an insightful peek into the future of education and extrapolates some exciting innovations that we can expect to see by the year 2020.

The Recent Past is a Distant Memory as We Rocket into the Future
As an introduction to how far education has advanced recently, the video begins by examining some of the things that may not even be a part of education by the third decade of the 21st century:

  • CDs – They have already been replaced by flash drives and the Cloud.
  • Desks – Liberating students from their desks, classrooms, and even schools themselves would free individuals to pursue individualized education in real world contexts.
  • Grades – Mastery-based, self-paced, individualized learning and instantaneous feedback makes grades not only unnecessary but counterproductive to learning.
  • Report cards – Perhaps more parental involvement in education through connected classrooms and interactive daily updates from teachers make the quarterly report card too slow for the next decade's students.
  • Lockers – Again, breaking free of the constraints of the school makes these unnecessary. Advancements in digital storage and portable devices also help streamline students' lives.
  • Textbooks – Remixing curriculums to include online resources, e-readers, and digital texts all render the textbook as irrelevant as the hornbook.

There are few students who would miss any of these artifacts of the previous century in education in part because students themselves have progressed so far in their own technological sophistication. In fact, according to the video, some students:

  • keyboard 60 words per minute in second grade on Twitter, Facebook, or text messages
  • manage complex social networks containing hundreds of people
  • publish their creative works online to share with the world
  • earn a salary working online in their spare time

There are, of course other things that, according to the video, today's students do, and that tomorrow's students are likely to do better such as starting their own businesses; interacting with scientists and contributing to research; starting non-profits, and many others. If these elements that currently happen independent of school can be incorporated into curriculums, there is no telling what students could accomplish as part of their education at every level.

The video then proceeds to examine the rate of technological innovation and states that in the next century we will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of progress. This dramatic rate of change means that skills learned by students at the start of high school or college may be obsolete by the time they graduate. Further, by pointing out that the top ten jobs today did not exist in 2004, the video makes it clear that, in the near future, the jobs that students do after graduation may not have existed during their time in school. So how could they possibly be trained to fill those positions?

What Does It Mean?
To begin its explanation of what the rapid pace of technological innovation means for education, the video points out that current graduates can expect to have between five and fifteen different careers in their lifetimes. Because of this dramatically shifting environment, educational institutions need to change what they teach and how they teach it. This is a first step in a larger societal support for these changes. To make these advances relevant in education, here is what the video suggests that schools must do:

  • Incorporate new media as the primary means of student expression and communication
  • Provide student centered, personalized learning
  • Facilitate authentic experiences to apply knowledge
  • Operate on a 24 hour a day 7 day a week basis
  • Be accessible anywhere, any time, and in any medium
  • Provide device-independent content
  • Be mastery-based
  • Encourage publication and portfolio creation
  • Help students interact with the world in meaningful ways

Some of the suggestions for what this advanced, connected education might look like include:

  • English classes that produce TV news broadcasts
  • Physics and automotive students collaborating to build race cars
  • Classes that research and design community energy solutions
  • Elementary students collaborating with others around the world to learn about Spring
  • Social science classes that travel the world via video conferencing and challenge guests about real world issues as they happen
  • Community service requirements for graduation

According to the video, these things are already happening in some schools right now. The major change that will happen in the next ten years is that these advances will become universal throughout all of education.

This Change is Universal
While this video and the associated documentation about the change effort accompanying it were put out by a Canadian educational institution, the trends and predictions are completely applicable to the American education system at all levels from K-12 through higher education. We really are at an historic turning point for education. New innovations in both pedagogy and technology are necessary to bring schools into alignment with the needs of an information age society and this video provides an inspirational look at how that could happen.