Learning – The Future (Part 2)

Future - technologyPart 1 introduced the idea that learning in 30 or 40 years time will be very different from today for what will be the children or grandchildren on today’s Generation Y.  Part 2 explores what it might look like in a little more detail and offers some thoughts on what may constitute learning in the years ahead.

The world of adult learning in 2050 will be very different from the one we recognise today.  Many aspects of learning are likely to change significantly in the coming decades and yet others such as the desire to interact with fellow ‘students’ or ‘trainees’ will remain unchanged.

Adult learning is characterized by self-motivation, the desire of the individual to increase their understanding of a subject either for the sake of learning itself or to boost future job prospects.  Recognition of that learning in the form of qualifications be they academic or otherwise is quite often the only way of proving that additional learning yet we all know that learning is so much more than a collection of certificates.  So, will the learning environment of 2050 enable people to benefit from the ever increasing amount of information that is already freely available to those who seek it out and is increasing year by year.

Five characteristics of the Learning Environment of 2050:

1.   Distance is King

Without doubt the biggest shift in recent decades when it comes to adult learning, be it in education or training, has been the advancement of distance learning.  Even 15 years ago delivering assignments or coursework via e-mail was far from commonplace, now it’s the norm.  The internet has certainly changed the landscape for the distance learning providers such as the UK’s Open University and for providers of workplace training.  While many may still sneer at e-learning it’s place is now clear in the world of training and by 2050 we will be at a stage when learners will expect the majority of learning material to be available on the web.  We are used to Pareto for many things but in terms of the ratio of distance to ‘class’ learning 90/10 may well be the new 80/20.

2.   Virtual Social Interaction

Whether it’s at university or college or attending an in-house training course most people accept that one of the major benefits is the interaction with others on the course.  This is both from a learning perspective but also has a wider experiential aspect to it.  If distance learning grows at the expense of attending a physical location to complete courses then it’s reasonable to assume that real interaction, i.e. face-to-face, will be reduced also.  No matter of course because individual learners will be connected to many thousands of people across the globe and will be able to pick out those who might form a study group with them for a particular course.

3.   Instantaneous Learning

In 40 years time the expectation of learners will be huge.  If you need to find something out then you turn to the web or whatever may constitute the web by then. Let’s face it, that is how people use the web of today but some are better than others at filtering out what is really needed.  Not only will learners expect the information they require to be available and easy to access they will expect it to be free, after all we are already starting to see university course lectures provided on iTunesU.  Learning requires an assimilation of information provided and is often assisted by trainers, lecturers, tutors and coaches.  There is no reason to believe that this function won’t be readily available by the middle of the century via virtual social networks but whether this aspect of learning will be free is debatable.

4.   Virtual Universities and Providers, Real Qualifications

Distance learning, interaction with contacts around the globe and readily available information constitute the majority of what adults require to learn. The only missing aspect is a physical location, either a campus or training facility.  Universities, colleges and training providers already network widely and provide courses in locations away from their original locations.  Forty years from now though things could be very much different with learners being able to self generate a course programme that fits their individual needs and select modules from wherever they choose – some free, others paid for.  Proof of successful completion, be it a one day course or three years will still be required but providers will simply need to have a way of co-ordinating ‘tutors‘ and others to assess assignments and mark exams in whatever format they may take.  Again, this corps of staff could be spread across the globe in the same way the learners themselves are.

5.   Real Interaction a Premium

There are of course subject areas that even by 2050 will still require real interaction between learners and learning provider staff but these will be restricted to courses which must have practical ‘hands-on’ work included.  Medicine springs to mind immediately as does welding and plastering.  For these areas there will undoubtedly be an increase in the use of distance learning and global social networks but some form of attendance at a specialist venue for the real (as opposed to simulated) practical aspects will never change.  The cost of provision of such learning in the future will be relatively more expensive than it is now compared to those courses that don’t require it.  Another area where real interaction with other students and teaching staff exists will be at the elite universities and training providers of the future.  This will very much be the premium end of learning and will only be available to those who are able to justify the benefit of the costs involved when compared to what will by then be the norm.

No-one of course knows what the learning environment will look like come 2050.  What we do know is that it is likely to be significantly different from what we see around us today.  While the differences might seem difficult to appreciate today, the learners of the future will take it as being  the way things are.


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