The Future of Education

People have spent their entire lives trying to predict the future. We admire those that can accurately anticipate what’s around the bend, though I’m fairly sure there’s many more predications that fall flat and simply fade into the background.

So, by talking about the future of education, I know I’m going out on a limb. There’s a good — perhaps substantial — chance that I end up totally wrong. And so be it. I’m not going to say these things will happen, instead, I want to put forth some ideas and conceptions for what might happen, more specifically, what I would like to seehappen.

I found it an interesting and thought-provoking trip, here’s what I came up with:

1. Self-Direction Will Take Over

We’re not designed to sit at desks and patiently consume information spewed from someone’s mouth. This type of learning is a recipe for disaster, the minute we become uninterested (which considering we often have little control over what it is we’re learning and may not see the relevance in our own lives, is very often), we will get distracted by our own thoughts and struggle to stay on topic.

But of course there are things we need to learn even when we’re not that interested, and relying on children in school mustering their own drive to learn in these cases can prove fruitless — even damaging. Instead we need to find the best ways to spark curiosity in a subject, to understand how to relate the ideas and concepts to students lives, so that instead of leading them through, we can simply point them in the right direction.

2. The Environment Will Replace the Textbook

Books are amazing but again, consuming information from only one modality is limited. Instead, we will learn by using our hands, ears, eyes, and all other senses. We can accomplish this by designing educational materials that we can interact with.

As 3D printing becomes cheaper and more widely available, schools will find themselves able to design things we could once only see in drawings. Model atoms, car engines, muscles and organs, and so forth.

Not only this, but kids will be able to design and shape their own ideas, allowing creativity to shine. They can use the principles of acoustics to create their own musical instruments, or print buildings to test their stability. This will greatly improve spatial skills, which are an important factor in the STEM fields.

3. VR and Augmented Reality Go One Step Further

For those things that defy model replicas we will soon be able to turn to VR gear. This almost total immersion into an imagined world will hold a child’s attention even better than a movie can today.

Aspects of reality can be particularly difficult to verbalize or represent in image form. While we might be able to 3D print planets and atoms, we still need to infuse the elements of motion, gravity, heat and other facets of these fields.

VR may solve some these problems, by allowing us to get up close and personal with the heart as it pumps blood, to stand in the brain as signals wiz by, or inside an atom as it joins to another and creates something new. Rather than a single perspective, we’ll also be able to move about these environments, allowing greater self-direction.

4. No More Subject Separation

As we explore new worlds using VR, we may no longer need to separate each subject so forcefully — as in, by having a different class for each.

Rather, from a single location and in a single sitting, we’ll be able to move from subatomic particles to cells, organisms, organs, people, arts, culture and societies, economies, politics, planets, and the universe.

It will become easier to show students how everything is connected, how fields interact instead of remaining separate, providing a seamless holistic view of themselves and the world around them.

5. Brain Scanning Becomes a Teaching Tool

Large machines such as fMRI scanners have traditionally been required to get an accurate reading of someones brain activity, but not for long. Soon we’ll have small, personal headsets that can give us insights into what’s going on inside.

With realtime readouts and teachers competent enough to read them, we’ll be able to pinpoint which students are stuck or distracted, and also to gain insight into the individuality of students. This will make it easier to stay out of the way unless absolutely necessary, and also to ensure that each student is taken into account.

What’s more, we will be better able to encourage a state of flow. This is what people often refer to as being in ‘the zone.’ When people are in this state, they are completely focused, submerged in the task, and stretching their abilities slightly further than in the past.

Researchers have found that this state requires a subtle balance between the task demands and the person’s ability — if they are skilled and the task too easy, they will be bored; if they are unskilled and the task too difficult, they will feel stressed and anxious.

As we learn to see boredom and anxiety in the brain as it pertains to a task and to flow, we’ll also be able to adjust certain tasks — ideally those in the virtual reality realm — on the fly to find that sweet spot.

6. AI Keeps the Upgrades Coming

There’s more data being created every second than ever before, and finding patterns and insights from all that data is an insurmountable task… for a human. When the field of artificial intelligence prospers, specifically the field of machine learning, we’ll have computers than can analyze and organize the loads of information we’re accumulating.

The classroom is one place where lot’s of data can be gathered. All of that recorded brain data need not stay in the classroom, nor do the elements of our interaction in virtual reality. Instead, we can combine the results from schools around the world, giving unprecedented insight into the nature of learning and what works vs what does not.

As results from different activities and challenges are compared, we’ll separate the best methods from the rest. This will allow us to incrementally and rapidly improve and upgrade the teaching environments all around the world.

quote“In the past, education adapted the mind to a very restricted set of available media; in the future, it will adapt media to serve the needs and tastes of each individual mind.”

—Seymour Papert, who sadly passed away as I was writing this post.

Well, those are my thoughts on the matter. What do you think? Would you like to add something? Let me know in the comments.

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