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Richard Worzel (Toronto Futurist) The Next 100 years in Education

The next 100 years in education

Sometimes the best way to assess where we are going is to look far down the track and use the broad outlines in the distance as landmarks to navigate in the short-run. Accordingly, I'm going to make some broad guesses about how education is going to change over the next 100 years.

The easiest guess is that technology will continue to get cheaper and more powerful. Moore's Law, coined by one of the founders of Intel, says, in effect, that computers will double in speed and halve in price every 18 months. A doubling of computing power every 18 months implies an increase in power of 1 x 1020 within the next century, or more than a trillion trillion times as much as we have today, a number so large as to be meaningless. The implication of this is that any problem that can be solved using raw computing power will be solved. In addition, computation will become incredibly cheap as well.

As a result, computers will become our constant companions. While a student is studying, her computer will observe her eye movements, small minutiae about her body language, her galvanic skin response, body temperature, and other clues as to her state of mind. Actually, I believe all of that will be secondary. I believe her computer will read her brain waves directly, and impute from them whether she's understanding what's being presented or not.

Moreover, she will learn what she needs, when she needs it in a form of "just in time" learning that we can now only fantasize about, and which the corporate world is now experimenting with.

Possessing so much information about the student, each student's computer will be able to guide her, find those things that interest her most, and find the best ways of presenting them to her. From this experience, her computer tutor will gradually discern those subjects that are of greatest interest to her, and begin to guide her towards her best career by integrating her interests with what the marketplace needs.

Next, distance education will become so obvious an extension of education, so easily fulfilled that it will be foolish not to use it. We grew up in a world where communications was expensive ("Get in here quick! Gramma's on long-distance!"), but we will live in a world where it will be incredibly cheap. By 2100, we will have virtual meeting places, where people project images that allow them to gather in cyberspace, with much of the effect of meeting in person. Moreover, everyone's talents and abilities will be known, so it will be a simple task for a child's computer to link her with just the right teacher or tutor for anything she wishes to study.

The educational gap between have and have-not, which will widen during the early years of the 21st Century, will eventually vanish as the technological resources crucial to education become so cheap that everyone will have access to them. Getting there will be a major problem, though, as we are entering an era of rapidly widening inequities.

Careers and the workplace will be dramatically different from today. There will be no grunt work, no menial labour. There will be routine work, but only because that is what the individual wants, and because it will be what makes that individual happiest. Indeed, the concept of work will become defined as "that activity that makes the individual most fulfilled." Our computer servants /guardians will do all the truly necessary work that humans don't want to do. We will finally reach a stage of thought, creativity, and work for pleasure of work that Socrates could only have dreamed of.

How will society respond? This is harder. I feel quite comfortable about what I've said about technology, but people are complicated! We will run a heavy risk of degenerating. There's a Jewish aphorism: "The two greatest threats to the Jewish people are persecution and prosperity." The same is true of all people, and too much affluence will test us in ways we have never considered before.

A lot will depend on whether humanity can decide on a purpose in life. If humans have purpose, we will use our opportunities and resources for good and to accomplish constructive ends. If we degenerate into meaningless whimsy, we will become self-destructive.

Much of this will be aided by the opening of "the final frontier," outer space. Within the next century, the exploitation of space will occur, from mining the asteroids, to colonizing the Moon and the Lagrange points of the Earth's orbit, to commencing the terraforming of Mars. This will provide a relief valve for those looking for adventure, opportunity, or just to escape from over-civilized society. It will have an important - and salutary - effect on society, knowing that there's somewhere else to go if the dissatisfied get tired of here.

If this all sounds like mere science fiction, then put yourself to the test: What do you think education will be like 100 years from now? Whatever you decide, I'd be willing to bet you won't project "more of the same." The changes of the next 100 years will make the changes of the last 100 look tame in comparison.

So what can we conclude from this? What should we be aiming for in education today? I draw seven primary conclusions:

1) The days of teachers lecturing rooms full of students as the primary means of education are drawing to a close.

2) Technology is going to play an ever-more important role in the classroom (even though there are major potholes in the road from here to there).

3) Distance education will become a commonplace tool for education, matching the right teacher for each subject with each student.

4) Careers will grow organically from the talents, abilities, and passions of the individual.

5) Education will, therefore, be customized to each student, not force-fed to all students in the mass production process we have today.

6) The physical classroom will gradually give way to a virtual classroom.

7) Education will be crucial to give people both a sense of purpose, and to equip them with the mental furniture they need to enjoy a world where working for a living may not be important.

FAQ's About Futurists "What's a futurist?"

Let's start by saying what a futurist is not. A futurist is not someone who "tells the future." We don't read tea leaves, tarot cards, crystal balls, or tell fortunes. Those who confuse us with soothsayers have never had any dealings with a futurist.

Instead, a futurist is someone who spends time thinking about what might happen in the future, and especially what are the forces at work that will shape and affect our futures. This is not magic, it merely takes time and effort. A professional futurist is someone who takes time to research, study, and think about the future, just as a biologist is someone who takes time to research, study, and think about biology. The end result of a futurist's efforts is, or should be, a better understanding of the future so that it is easier to make intelligent plans about the future.

In short, then, a futurist is a planner, not a prophet.

Richard Worzel (From an interview on Newsworld)


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