Learning in the Year 2040: Looking Forward, Acting Now!
By Ryan Schaaf
What will the future of education look like, and how do we get there? What and how should future generations learn? How should training and education help learners prepare for a workforce that pits their skills and expertise against equally skilled, lower-paid workers from other countries? Eventually, how will these same learners compete in a workforce increasingly driven by software, apps, robots, and artificial intelligence?
Let’s go a little science fiction and pretend for a minute that you:
- performed a quantum leap with Dr. Sam Beckett;
- stepped into the TARDIS with the Doctor;
- used the Green Infinity Time Stone; or
- traveled Warp 10 around a star on the U.S.S. Enterprise.
As the space-time continuum adjusts to our presence, we are now in the year 2040, about two decades in the future. Now, let us look into a day in the life of a learner, 20 years from now. A young girl named Alexa is preparing to go to school. She is packing up her all-in-one digital device that comes with a built-in digital assistant – her own personal intelligence agent. Alexa has been working with a collaborative team of students to decrease the amount of trash the school generates. Using her device, Alexa performed her own research and contacted an environmental scientist to assist her with ideas to fulfill her team’s goal. Alexa’s team decides the best way to reach the students of their school and demonstrate what they have learned is by presenting their research and findings to the student body. Alexa and her group develop and deliver a passionate presentation that promotes a change in mindset in the culture of the school. The team’s next step is documenting and tracking using data to determine if their efforts work to achieve their shared goal – decrease the amount of trash the school generates.
Now, let’s go back home to 2020. Alexa (and her team) had quite a day of authentic learning experiences. What critical learning skills and dispositions were on display?
In his best-selling book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do About It, Harvard University fellow and author Tony Wagner (2010) identifies the following seven survival skills for the 21st century:
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
- Agility and Adaptability
- Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
- Effective Written and Oral Communication
- Accessing and Analyzing Information
- Curiosity and Imagination
Where some of these skills evident in Alexa’s day? As an entire system, does education regularly provide learning experiences to promote these survival skills in today’s learners?
Learning in the Future
In A Brief History of the Future of Education: Learning in the Age of Disruption, my co-author and I make 11 forecasts about the future of learning.
Learning will be Just in Time.
Because we live in a time of increasingly disposable information, much of learning must shift to just-in-time learning, where students access information and content only when it’s necessary.
Learning will Happen Anytime, Anyplace in both Virtual and Physical Spaces.
With digital networks rapidly blanketing the world and pocket-sized mobile devices continuing to saturate society, schools can embrace a versatile array of digital tools and resources that make it possible to create personal virtual learning environments for their learners. These environments allow participants to learn from anyone, anywhere, anytime, and at any pace.
Learning will be Lifelong.
In the 21st century, schools must prepare students for the reality that learning must be a lifelong process. Job changes will be a recurring fact of life – tomorrow’s learners must be agile, adaptable, and ready to learn, unlearn, and relearn many times during their working lives.
Learning will be Personalized, Learner-Centered, and Nonlinear.
Learners can access learning materials anytime and anyplace, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. This new possibility has profound implications on learning because it means that need and interest can drive it rather than a clock, calendar, or curriculum.
Learning will be Whole-Minded
Although a great deal of the brain’s capabilities and potential puzzles today’s scientists, we do have a growing understanding of how the brain functions and learns. We now understand that the digital generations’ brains are always creating new thinking patterns throughout their entire lives, and powerful learning goes far beyond only rote memorization.
Learning will be Real World.
There is a place for rote memorization, but the world of today and tomorrow will place much more value on a student’s ability to process information and apply what he or she learned within the context of real-world, real-time problems and challenges that promote the transfer of learning to new situations.
Learning will Be Based on Discovery.
The digital generations have grown up with access to highly interactive, hyperlinked, multimedia, online digital environments where they control both the path and the pace of their movement through information. Such situations are in complete contrast with traditional learning environments where the teacher talks and expects learners to listen. Being told what is going to happen in advance robs learners of the experience of finding things out for themselves and removes the elements of wonder and surprise from the educational experience.
Learning will be Focused on Processing Multimedia Information.
Digital media has changed the essential skills we all need to be media prosumers (consuming and producing media). Learners and teachers alike must be able to communicate as effectively in multimedia formats as 20th-century learners were able to communicate with text and speech.
Learning will be Collaborative.
Schools must embrace the social aspects the new digital landscape provides. The emergence of a global network has shifted power and knowledge from the individual to the group. With the web, everyone has become connected to everyone and everything else, which allows individuals to work together anytime and anywhere.
Learning will be Assisted by Thinking Machines and Big Data.
Digital teaching assistants will free teachers from being the primary source of low-level learning to being the facilitators of exciting modern-day learning experiences for students. The future will not see teachers replaced; instead, technology will create a needed shift in the teacher’s instructional role from being the sage on the stage to being the guide on the side.
Learning and Evaluation will be Holistic.
Schooling should help learners prepare for what they will face in the real world after their academic career is complete. This kind of learning and assessment as more authentic because the learning activities in school mirror the activities learners will encounter in the world outside the school system.
These eleven forecasts, these eleven predictions, will be critical for educators to examine in greater detail. After all, if learning will change, then that means the role of educators will change also. The next and final installment of this series will conclude with a deep-dive into the New Roles of Educators in the Future.
About this article
This article is a part of The Brief History of the Future of Education series. Based on the newly-released book written by Ian Jukes and Ryan L. Schaaf, this series will explore the TTWWADI mindset in schools, examine school’s challenges of teaching in the Age of Disruptive Innovation, traverse the new learning attributes of the digital generation, predict what learning will look like 20 years from now, observe the essential next-generation skills schools must cultivate in its learners to prepare them to survive and thrive in the future, and consider the new roles educators must adopt to stay relevant in the profession.
About the Author
Ryan Schaaf is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology at Notre Dame of Maryland University and faculty member in the Digital Age Learning and Educational Technology program at Johns Hopkins University. His passion is working with educators to explore the potential of gaming in the classroom, the characteristics of modern-day learning and learners, and exploring emerging technologies and trends to improve education. Follow him on Twitter @RyanLSchaaf
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.