Some questions I've been asked recently have given me opportunity to finally post to this blog for the first time. At a Chromebook event at Google two weeks ago we were asked to identify trends on the web over the next five years. In my own personal response I was able to pull together several of the thoughts that also led me to start this blog back in January. Then, last week, I had the opportunity to put those thoughts into written form as part of a doctoral research study I'm participating in.
My participation is anonymous and the researcher won't reveal my identity in the study. Of course I'm under no obligation not to reveal my own identity but in an effort not to reveal the study (incase the researcher wouldn't appreciate it), I won't include the researcher's identity or the actual research question or prompt here.
In any case, I was asked to identify five developments in educational technology that will become available to California public schools in the next five years... and their potential effect. I may've taken a different approach to the question than anticipated. The first three developments I mention are not news. I'd say all three have been at work in my life for over a decade, and much more so in the last five years. The next two developments are an extrapolation of needs created by the first three.
In any case, here is a slightly edited version of what I wrote in response:
1. Development: Cloud Computing (and Adequate Devices) Thanks to the increasing availability and lowering cost of both cloud computing services and adequate devices for accessing the internet, students and teachers will have access to their learning resources “everywhere all the time.” It will be increasingly easy for large numbers of students and teachers to create, edit, share, collaborate, publish, and interact online - with increasingly powerful services (such as Google Apps, social networks, and other “web 2.0” tools), for very little, if any, cost. At the same time, “adequate” devices for accessing the internet (such as netbooks, Chromebooks, tablets, and smart phones) will become more and more affordable (and more powerful), providing students and teachers with more freedom and flexibility to access online tools wherever and however they choose. Though it may not be funded by the state, a de facto 1:1 student-to-computer ration will be achieved in an increasingly greater percentage of California schools. Potential Effect: With the ability to access their learning resources “anytime anywhere” students will be freed from the constraints of the classroom, physically and temporally - and in terms of the curriculum and small learning communities. In places where educators also leverage these tools, schools will remain relevant to a student’s education. In places where educators do not leverage these tools, schools will become increasingly irrelevant to students’ education... as students will be increasingly empowered to look elsewhere for the things they want to learn. 2. Development: Personal Learning Networks With the proliferation of social networks (such as Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and others) anyone, including students and teachers can now create their own “personal learning networks.” Educators can build a network of like minded professionals (and others who will challenge their thinking). Students too can build a network of experts in the fields they want to learn about - and others who are interested in learning about the same things. Though the technology for this development is already in place (and has already been used in this way for at least five years, if not considerably more if blogs and other earlier social media are considered), it will continue to spread in the culture of k12 schools in the coming years. Potential Effect: With the ability to create their own personal learning networks, students will be freed from the constraints of their local learning community (their schools and other local institutions, clubs, or informal learning opportunities). They will be able to connect to peers and experts around the world - and they’ll be able to contribute to those distributed communities even as they learn. Again, in places where educators also leverage these opportunities, schools will remain relevant to a student’s education (as teachers serve as facilitators and guides in the networked world). But in places where educators do not leverage these tools, then schools will become increasingly irrelevant to students... instead students will exercise their power to learn from others elsewhere on a 24/7 around the clock and around the globe basis.
3. Development: Distributed Learning Opportunities Personal learning networks are not the only distributed learning opportunity available to students and educators. The proliferation of open educational resources (OERs) and low cost educational resources, students and educators can now custom create a “curriculum” to meet their own needs and pursue their own passions. Existing models such as the Kahn Academy, iTunes University, CK12, MIT’s open courseware, and others are laying a foundation and blazing a path for a revolution in distributed learning opportunities. The next five years will see greater availability and awareness of the resources.
Potential Effect: With the ability to create their own custom curriculum students will be freed from the constraints of locally adopted texts and “scope and sequence” programs. With the ability to access what they want to learn when they want to learn it (and with 1:1 computing and personal learning networks), there will be no little for students to learn the same thing at the same time. In places where educators also leverage these opportunities, schools will remain relevant to a student’s education (as teachers serve to help curate student’s learning galleries). But in places where educators do not leverage these tools, then schools will become increasingly irrelevant to students... students will simply seek out what they want to learn and spend their time and effort on that instead of their formal schooling. 4. Development: Aggregation Tools, Services, and Marketplaces Some tools for aggregating online information and social media (such as Evernote, social bookmarking, and RSS readers like Google Reader) already exist, but these are not explicitly focused on learning, and are generally not well integrated with social networking tools (used for maintaining personal learning networks) or with open educational resources and other distributed learning opportunities. The next five years will see development of aggregation tools, services, and marketplaces designed explicitly for learning. An ideal learning aggregator will ask students “what do you want to learn?” and bring back resources from various relevant sources (using the APIs for specialized research tools such as Google Books, Google Scholar, Google News, and Google Blogsearch for instance) in response to a student query. It will also recommend specific open educational resources. Students will be able to save and annotate relevant resources... and share those resources with others in their network. This ideal learning aggregator will also help connect learners, such that a students logged into the system would also be able to see what others in their personal learning networks are learning. Perhaps most importantly, this learning aggregator would also include a recommendation engine that suggests new topics for learning (and new social connections) based on a students previous interests. A teacher as guide, curator, and connection maker will still be an important part of a student’s personal learning network, but primarily because of their ability to help students get the most out of their aggregation tools (for lack of a better term). Such a social learning aggregator might also offer a marketplace of teachers, mentors, and services (such as tutoring) that might help students to connect with the expert guides they need... when they need them. Potential Effect: Though teachers (and a face-to-face education) will continue to be important, such a social learning aggregator could dramatically alter the educational model. Students would have access to such a tool anywhere (it would be a low cost, or free, cloud-based service that could run on any “adequate device”), and they would be able to use the tool with others in their personal learning network to access a variety of open educational resources... in pursuit of their own needs and passions. In such a scenario, the need for traditional schools and traditional curriculum would be sharply reduced, especially in older students (including middle school students). Naturally, in paces where educators leverage learning aggregators as they become available, schools will remain a meaningful place for face-to-face learning. However, in places where educators do not leverage these tools as they become available, schools will naturally become increasingly irrelevant to students, especially once they have tools at their fingertips that can do the job of aggregating learning opportunities better than schools ever did. 5. Development: Learning Studios Though cloud based services, personal learning networks, distributed learning opportunities, and even social learning aggregators may be online... face-to-face learning experiences will remain an important way for teachers and mentors to tap into a student’s passions, address their frustrations, and guide them in using the increasingly complex ecology of online learning tools. With no substitute for looking someone in the eye and looking over their shoulder as they work, especially when learning a new technology, a face-to-face space for learning will continue to be important. In the next five years, a new kind of Learning Studio will become available to students... a flexible (and very “human” space) for gathering, sharing, and collaborating... where teachers and mentors can help students navigate the exciting but complex world of online learning opportunities... and where more physical pursuits (such as dance, physical science, or robotics for instance) can also take place. These studios will be launch pads for field trips, gathering places for guest speakers (or video conferences), and meeting places for face-to-face collaboration or mentoring. These studios may first appear as private “after school” programs or as private schools (or both). They may also appear as non-profit organizations or other innovative startups... or as pilot programs within traditional schools. Potential Effect: Ultimately, once students have access to such a studio (whether in an independent space or in their own school), this will mean (for many students) that the traditional school has lost the last of it’s academic appeal. If students are able to visit a studio that provides or supports access to cloud computing (perhaps by providing inexpensive or free devices to access the internet), helps facilitate development of personal learning networks, helps students access distributed learning opportunities, and provides (or helps students access) powerful learning aggregators to help focus their efforts... then that will be a clearly superior choice to traditional schools where students are asked to sit and listen to (or read) relatively irrelevant material in isolation. Schools that take on the characteristics of such a learning studio (or educators who create a classroom that does), will remain relevant to students. Schools (or educators) who do not model their spaces and programs after such a studio will quickly become irrelevant - and will eventually be formally or informally bypassed in students’ continued education.In short, leaners no longer need schools for access to information. They no longer need schools to provide a network of people to learn from - and learn with. They no longer need schools to provide quality curriculum. However, they do need new tools (and mentors) to help them aggregate the open educational resources and distributed learning opportunities now available to them. And, they do need places to go where they can meet peers and mentors face-to-face... human spaces conducive to learning and creating... spaces where they can share their excitement, where they can participate in physical pursuits (such as dancing or building anything), and where they can build a sense of local community.
I've made some effort already to pursue the learning studio model (see Starfire Learning Studios), but I've realized that such a model does not have a wide profit margin and is not scalable in the way that education venture capitalists are looking for today. The social learning aggregator, though, is an online tool that might be a more attractive product and I'm now pursuing the possibility of recruiting funding for that effort.
This blog, is also an effort to aggregate empowering resources for learners (for free)... and I plan to use this writing space as a platform to explore both ideas: the social learning aggregator, and the physical learning studio.
Naturally, any feedback on any of these topics would be much appreciated. Please share in the comments below.