Some Crystal Ball Gazing: What does the future of education look like?

Earlier this year I was a co-author on a chapter examining serious games in education with the goal to help teachers implement these tools into their classrooms, what was clear from our research, personal knowledge and experiences was that education hasn’t really changed all that much in the last 150-200 years; we’re still deeply entrenched in the 19th century factory model of education. Anyone who’s not been living under a rock for the past decade will know our world is moving at an unprecedented pace with regards to advancements in technology, and access to information which in contrast is a complete juxtaposition with modern education.

With the internet, the so called cloud, coupled with portable PCs aka smart phones and tablets, we now have instant access to an incomprehensible amount of data and this is changing our personal relationship with knowledge and information.

I found myself debating this concept with myself one morning (hopefully not the first sign of madness, I’d rather put it down to being a Gemini) and wondering if rote and memorization learning is really the poor cousin to other more trendy forms of learning and pondering what the instant access methodology is doing to the ways our brains process and categorize information? Are we starting to ‘ignore’ basic facts as we ‘know’ they exist in the cloud? Are we seeking out and reserving memory for the higher order facts and knowledge that comes from experience?

Within the comments in a recent wired article I came across a great quote which is said to be from Albert Einstein, who was renowned for not remembering trivial details:  “Never memorize something that you can look up.”  Now even if this wasn’t from Mr Einstein himself (as the source isn’t verified)  isn’t this true of how we view data today? Why bother remember a formula when all you have to do is type it into Google and its there in front of your eyes in 0.17 seconds?

Is basic information no longer something we have to learn? At the moment (and I stress at the moment!) we have a system in place to store all that basic knowledge, but without understanding and internalising the basics, how will this affect our ability to problem solve, cross reference and think critically. Without the foundations are we able to effectively utilise higher level knowledge and information?

I wonder if the internet and the way we use this access to data is making us lazy as a species. I know myself, if I want to know something Google is the first place I turn. My thirst for knowledge is quenched immediately. My attention span for websites is minimal and I know I rely too much on Words spell checker! As a young person growing up in this world you would wonder what would be the point of lectures and classrooms when all the knowledge you’ll ever need is out there waiting for you.

By relying too much on the internet, we are missing a trick; the basics are so fundamental to understanding that without them we will make mistakes. Take for example lose and loose – simple yet common grammatical mistakes are too often seen today. The internet will not teach you the difference between these two words, unless you seek out the definitions. Articles are not monitored for spelling, punctuation and grammar and therefore it is up the reader to interpret the content and define meaning. This is a simple example but one that we are seeing growing in importance.

By believing everything we see online as true, by knowing it’s there when we need it, are we losing an understanding of the important to think for ourselves?

This ‘problem’ is not only limited to education, we see it in training all the time. We’re too often asked by users ‘’where’s the next button?’’  Technology has done wonders for advancements but it also has a lot to answer for.

I guess the point I am coming to is this; the internet is awesome, but it is unregulated. Education is dated, but incredibly regulated. In my opinion the education and training sectors need to step it up a gear. Before you say it, I don’t mean more funding for tablets and smart boards for every classroom but I do feel education and training has a lot to learn from the way the internet and other modern technologies and data systems are organised. Serious games slowly release information over time, requiring the player to understand and comprehend the knowledge before moving on, and then build on that knowledge to progress, reinforcing each point. Wiki’s for example allow users to follow their interests to build autonomy over their learning process and social networks enable connections between individuals that might otherwise have been impossible.

We are after all an incredibly adaptive, social species, learning through connections and experiences. We take control in our personal lives but when it comes to education and training either through laziness or conditioning we leave the responsibility up to others; teach me, show me, tell me. I like to consider myself a realist and understand the difficulty/near impossibility of changing the beast that is the education system, but I do believe we can make improvements with small steps, one at a time. I for one would like to see much more diversity in the way that we learn; where one size certainly does not fit all. I’d like to see more social networking and gaming in education and training; I’d also like to see more hands on experiences for young people, but most of all I’d like to see more thought applied to the ways in which we learn a balance between our cognitive needs and the tools at our finger tips. Let’s see less complacency in design and more out of the box thinking.

In which direction education and training will go is one question Google doesn’t have an answer for; we’ll have to rely on our own logical reasoning, experience and problem solving abilities. So what would you like to see happen to education and training? What are the achievable steps we should take to continue the evolution of formal learning?

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