The Future of Education

I was talking to a co-worker recently about his four and a half-month-old son. When we talked about education, he said something that surprised me – “I’m going to teach Eric everything I know, and I’m not going to encourage him to go to college.” When I asked if he would encourage his son to make his own business, he responded with “maybe, but I rather he works on open source software and helps change the world.”

We further talked about the whole educational upheaval that is currently happening – boot camps for software development, Khan Academy, nano-degrees, Coursera’s removal of hundreds of free courses and the general idea that all educational information that you need is “out there” or better said “right there” on the internet. This information availability with so-called personalization would seem to be a current and future trend.

What will education look like in 20 years? While my co-worker disagreed with the need for a college education, he did agree that it can provide a social/networking aspect that individual web access from home cannot. After all, how much better are your chances to get work at a start-up if the founder or some member of the executive team comes from your alma mater?

I’ve always wondered about the Star Trek (ST) universe and its nature of education. In that world, the focus seems to always be on Star Fleet Academy. But what about the mechanics that service the ships? The construction workers? The suppliers of replicators and other fantastic technologies? How do they fit in?

In the ST world are you assessed when you’re a child over a period of time, and a customized educational path is made for you? And if this is the way that works, then does a very specific education help you as an individual become a well-rounded individual? Or are you a ‘silo-ed’ person that knows how to do a very specific job with the expectation that you’ll stick to this path and be ‘happy’ with it? What does happiness mean to a person in this world? Where is individual purpose in such a world?

I did a couple of Duckduckgo searches, and the only relevant information that came up was a comment on old forum from a woman named Karen Henke ( http://www.futureofeducation.com/forum/topics/star-trek-a-vulcan-education):

I saw the movie Star Trek last week and enjoyed the action, the characters, the story, and the vision of the future…except for one thing. The future of education portrayed on the Vulcan planet consisted of individuals in pods repeating back to a disembodied voice. It seemed to show the personalization and individualization of education, but missed collaboration and social learning entirely.

Later in the movie, the skills needed to succeed were collaboration, problem solving, and the ability to work together as a team with each team member having specialized skills. Perhaps the cadet education was radically different?

This was an interesting perspective on Vulcan education as portrayed in the movie and I suppose it’s just as valid for the reflection about an earth-bound education.

My view is that presently – a bachelor degree is the new GED. In other words, most jobs tick off the undergraduate education checkbox as a basic requirement. A master’s degree provides a bit more distinction with a Ph.D. being a much bigger distinguishing factor (especially if one wants to teach in a 4-year college). Besides this checkbox, a college education can provide an important network of people that may make the job search easier. Consider for example that you graduated from Acme University and the CEO of the start-up that you’re approaching is also from Acme. Alternatively, a university-based network that can help you reach individuals at companies that you could not otherwise approach.

This is all present stuff – what about the future? What about the education in Eric’s time and beyond? Will he have the illustrated primer described in The Diamond Age and will that help him? I think that Karen hit the nail on the head in that forum post concerning collaboration and social learning. If personalized education is a click/swipe away (or whatever gestural UI there is in the future) and anyone and everyone can learn whatever they need – then where does one learn about social based interaction and problem solving?

It’s easy to fall into a Cassandra-ish trance of OMG the future will be composed of subject specific individuals that are walled off from the rest of the world. It’s easy to stomp our aching generational feet and claim that all is lost because of technology. But I think that this is a false approach.

I find my hope in a recent visit to a Peet’s Coffee. This Peet’s was near a community college, and when I sat at one of the bar chairs, I noticed this community college student sitting two chairs away. She had a notebook open (the paper type), with a laptop in front of her, and white ear buds running to her iPhone 6S. And right there on the iPhone screen was a FaceTime connection to another student. She was collaborating with that student through FaceTime while working at a coffee shop that was buzzing with people and activity. Social learning – check. Collaboration – check. Being in environment that has other humans – check again.

I think that as long as we are human, social and collaborative learning is not going to go away. Whether the bridge of such interaction is an ancient campfire or a FaceTime connection, it’s still there. Technology is just like that Promethean fire – it’s a tool and as a tool, it can connect us or put significant distance between us. It’s our choice in terms of both the interaction and the technology that we choose. To be human is to to be social and to collaborate – whether introvert or extrovert. It’s in our nature, and future generations will use whatever technology is commonly available to do this interaction.

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