EDUCATION IN 50 YEARS: SHRINKING CLASSROOMS AND DISAPPEARING TEACHERS

By Iweka Kingsley

A futurist’s perspective on education in 50 years 

In the wake of 2015, seven inland schools in Gauteng, South Africa, walked into the new era of the digital classroom, which will connect them to a world of better educational opportunities. While it remains quite impossible to state with certainty what the educational experience will look like in 50 years, we are however guided by several factors to imagine what we should expect.

What we observe currently with the educational landscape suggests strongly that change will continue to be a constant factor, and that educators will be challenged to think beyond traditional models if they want to remain relevant. New technologies and new approaches to learning are altering the way educational programs are delivered and are changing the way people learn.

Imagine a learning lab in a university that has space, resources and technology, where mini-Watsons are in the hands of each student and leading technology companies play a role in the learning environment. Imagine a ‘flipped classroom’ where students are not taught nor tested in the pedagogical way we know it today, but rather have to apply their knowledge to address real problems in the world.

When I imagine education in the future, I think about the movement of didactic lectures to online or digital classrooms, with campus programs focused more on the psychomotor aspect of learning such as; laboratories, studios etc. I imagine a societal focus on transferable skills as opposed to classical education. I imagine cheaper cost of learning driven by an increased availability and access to massive open online courses and alternative media for transferring knowledge and information.

Disappearing School four-walls

The traditional lecture hall is still the norm, but it is beginning to look possible that the four walls of the traditional lecture hall may cease to exist as we know it. With increasing accumulation and access to knowledge and information online, schools, especially higher education institutions, are beginning to adopt the digital way of things, so that lectures are now delivered and stored online, exams are now taken and scored virtually, degrees awarded to successful students and certificates shipped to the recipient thousands of miles away.

Learning will replace Teaching

While teachers might be content experts, they are not necessarily experts at creating the proper learning environment. For many years, the traditional model of education has focused on teaching, but a shift is being made to focus on learning. Learning is the essence of education and there will be an overall move towards more student-centred learning models. The world is waking up to the fact that education does not have to be represented by a teacher standing in front of a class. This awakening suggests a future of personalised learning, with learning models characterised by personal choice. This shift threatens the relevance of traditional teachers when we imagine education in the future, and will cause teachers to reinvent themselves, maybe not to become humanoids, but certainly evolve to find relevance in the new age of education.

Technology Drives Everything

Changes in education are driven by advances in technology; from solar-powered classrooms, to eLearning and iLearning platforms, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), mobile video learning, ‘flipped classroom’ and more. It is these advances in technology that will deliver the future of education.

Already, massive open online courses are capturing the interests of educational institutions around the world, and the debate is on whether they are a supplement or an alternative to traditional, pedagogical education. MOOCs are mostly free and are easily regarded as an alternative to traditional education especially to people in remote parts of the world or people who cannot really afford traditional higher education. Essentially, what I envisage is an amalgamation of some sort, of traditional educational methods and MOOCs to deliver new and innovative approaches to learning.

There is also growing interest in ‘flipped classroom’, a method that requires people to watch videos at home, as a substitute for lectures in the lecture hall or theatre. Then the classroom is used mostly for discussion and problem-solving. This method has great potential of full adoption and acceptance, and quickly too.

As regards using new tools and devices to impact learning, a number of schools globally have initiated massive deployments of iPads, with several of them applying BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs. In the U.S alone, Apple announced that it has sold over 4.5 million iPads to schools. This move presents a big opportunity for educators to use a medium that students are accustomed to.

Mobile video courses are transforming the learning experience for students, offering flexible classroom time and location. I envisage video learning to become a powerful content format that will drive learning engagement in the future.

The Future Student

Education will become increasingly available and accessible to everyone anywhere in the world, irrespective of their ability to pay for it. MOOCs are providing a great service in this respect. What is uncertain and quite unpredictable is interest and participation. The student of the future is therefore one who has an appetite to learn and apply acquired knowledge and skills to impact the world. Equipped with advanced technology and abundance of information, the student will be able to grasp concepts and theories quicker, and at their own convenience. They will be a lot more confident and specific about their interests, and will have a variety of quality learning options and methods to choose from.

The future student will not be driven mainly by a need to just get a degree so they can get a job somewhere. They will be driven by interest and passion to hone their talents and passions to impact society, and there will be increasingly more specific and tailored curricula catering to a diverse spectrum of often similar yet distinct interests, and new fields of study. This prediction is supported by statistics from the U.S Department of Labour that says that 65% of today’s grade school kids will end up in jobs that have not been invented yet.

Ultimately, I believe we are on the right path, drawing from the opportunities that technology provides, to arrive at a blended environment for learning and education, and I think the journey is truly interesting.

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