New Futures for Education: Beyond the Information Age.


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Keynote presented to the World Future Society's conference in Mexico City, 7 November 2003.
Note that the speech itself is written in the slidedeck notes, so if you view "notes" while clicking through the deck, you can read the speech in full.

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  • Buenos dias. I want to thank the WFS Mexico for the invitation to participate in this excellent conference, and for the warmth of their hospitality. I am here this morning to pose some questions about possible long-term futures for education. I shall touch only briefly on the current crises in education -- not because I think them unimportant, but because our role as forward thinkers, as futurists, is to explore the boundaries of possibility at least one generation forward.
  • Let us briefly acknowledge current educational pressures -- some combination of which may be found in almost any school system anywhere in the world. Either too little infrastructure exists: it is inadequate for potential student load, as in, for example, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, where the local high school literally lacks enough seats for all potential students -- or the infrastructure can accommodate the student population, but it is ageing, in disrepair, and little or no funds exist to renovate buildings and equipment. Third, the infrastructure may still be functional, but it was designed for the subjects and teaching styles of the industrial age -- creating workers with skills appropriate to factories and mass production -- and it lacks resources to upgrade to such information-age infrastructure as computers and media labs. Or too few trained teachers are available. And of course, all of these are exacerbated by ongoing budget crises and underspending on education generally.
  • Given the current challenges, what possibilities exist for the future? WE have many scenarios to choose from: over fifty years of futures studies have produced libraries of scenarios, no few of which have focussed on education. Even a quick Google search for education scenarios uncovers a geographically and substantively diverse array of scenarios. The next few slides focus on those produced for the National Education Association, and available in their entirety online and by CD.
  • Quality driven: The National Education Association in the USA, has proposed two basic scenarios for the future of higher education, each of which produces several different delivery models. Their preferred outcome is driven by shifting public values emphasizing quality in education, that “education must be a seamless web, that opportunities… should be available to all residents. Higher education becomes viewed as a public good, as an important investment in societal well being.” But in many ways the outcomes that will be more recognizable to the academics and educators in the audience emerge from their “market-driven” scenario, which assumes that education is no longer a government responsibility, but the responsibility of each individual instead.
  • In order to survive, educational institutions scramble for strategies to handle reduced funding -- and increased demand by the economy for workers trained in new skills. The “MacCollege” scenario offers cheap and cheerful education by a coordinated national network of franchised community colleges, with educational product tie-ins -- and the teaching, you should note, outsourced to Mexico.
  • Emerging business and university partnerships to enhance education for the new economy result in “educational maintenance organizations:” higher education institutions begin to administer education through contracts with industries and states.
  • The “outsourced” approach maintains the face-to-face campus experience, but approaches the budget crisis by adopting advanced business models, including outsourcing all university activities to the cheapest bidders.
  • With shifting economic structures producing increasing unemployment, large universities are used to “warehouse” youth, and students actively encouraged to stay in school as long as possible. Instruction increasingly computer-based, with little contact with actual faculty.
  • Some universities, in an attempt to maintain quality, focus on the media-based delivery of “star” faculty and researchers, leading to the “Hollywood-ization” of education, and “edutainment,” touting the excellence of its production values.
  • Let’s take that last scenario and focus in on it: “wired,” online delivery of education. What is the promise? Flexible, asynchronous “just in time” delivery of educational resources, fitting in to individual student schedules; make maximal effective use of “information-age” media distributed via the web; access to the best teachers, researchers, and instructional materials, no matter where in the world they are, or the students are. The University of Phoenix is one of the largest USA-based examples of this sort of distance education.
  • But does this really represent a new paradigm in teaching, a model created entirely for the information age and the emerging information economy? In daily practice, classes are often structured in lock-step -- if the student falls behind, they are lost. Content is often simply a transfer of the print-based materials of the face-to-face classroom to the hypertext environment of the web, with little recourse to richer arrays of media. Granted, this is usually due to lack of budget to prepare a media-rich environment, or buy server / bandwidth resources to deliver it well. Teaching this way is time-intensive, and often outsourced to part-time faculty. Are we simply saying that the future of education will be a lot like today, only on-line -- and equally under-resourced and pressured to produce income? Commodifying knowledge transfer, and applying industrial economic models to what should be a quintessentially information economy activity.
  • Twentieth century education was designed to mass produce an educated workforce which would fit into the environment of the factory production line. A production line increasingly populated by robots controlled by expert systems. The information age economy demands something much more like the individual worker as self-employed entrepreneur.
  • What new models are available? One example resource is offered by Vos and Dryden, in the research they present in The Learning Revolution. They have collected best practice case studies describing education innovations around the world, presenting a myriad of models that are alike in one respect: they apply our emerging knowledge of learning styles, multiple intelligence, group process dynamics, and human brain function to optimize learning conditions and processes -- but in ways suited to different cultures. I will not describe each of these models: I refer you to their book -- which is available in its entirety free online.
  • But one model is to make educational resources available free: it is a model which the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has implemented in their “Open Course Ware” initiative. This specifically challenges old economic notions of commodification, and creating value for goods by limiting access. Making all of MIT’s curriculum resources available online and open to anyone with web access, follows one of Kevin Kelly’s dicta from New Rules for a New Economy: in the information economy, you can, paradoxically, enhance product value by giving part of it away for free.
  • This takes education at least one step out of the industrial age and into the information age. But the next step might well be completely open source, self-designed, asynchronously delivered information and learning, supported by a globally self-organizing community of education.
  • The precursors of which may well be the self-organizing global communities of the Open Directory Project (ODP) and Wikipedia. Both are voluntary efforts to identify, document, annotate, and organize knowledge, in many different languages, involving people from all over the world. The ODP, for example, is an global community of over 50,000 people that creates an annotated taxonomy of websites. This database provides core data to GOOGLE, Lycos, and many other of the commercial web search engines.
  • Perhaps a more useful way to innovate in education is to consider the customers of the future -- age cohort analysts refer to the transitions of experience and expectations between generations. Millennials will be accustomed to choosing and manipulating their own experiences -- that is, creating their own CDs and DVDs, and designing their own websites. They will be used to participation, collaboration, and having more control over their activities and their information environment. In designing programs for them, we must involve them to gain their interest and commitment. What exactly does this mean? Let’s consider how they play:
  • Briefly they expect fun to be when they want it, how they want it, where they want it, immersive and high-speed, participatory, and providing a platform for individual creativity -- and they want it to challenge them.
  • And they will use technology to create their own media and languages to share these experiences: the rudimentary examples today are texting and gaming.
  • Based on these trends away from print-based media, another possible outcome often extrapolated by futurists is the end of literacy. Personally, I think a world without books would be a poorer place -- and as many obsolete but elegant skills have been maintained through history (for example, fencing) -- I believe there will always be some core group of eccentrics who love to read, even in the next millennium. But I do think emerging new media will change the landscape for learning, communicating, and thinking.
  • Reading online is very different from reading a book, of course: it is potentially non-linear, given the capability for annotation linking any given paragraph, sentence, or word to databases, case studies, bibliographies AS well as other authors’ works; multi-sensory, allowing viewers to switch seamlessly from print to music to art to movies -- and eventually to sculpture and scents; and enables multidimensional structuring of narratives and logical arguments. An vivid illustration of this is offered by David Brin in the novel Earth.
  • Ian Pearson of BT Labs wowed a previous WFS conference with his description of lab experiments with “thought activated” computers, and just last month a research team described their success with chimps activating game joysticks merely via chips implanted in their brains.
  • E.g., the successive generations of “smart-its,” which their designers describe as “small context-aware computers that can be attached to everyday objects. If you need a coffee-cup that knows if it is full or empty, a table that tracks the objects on it, or a wine bottle that can tell if it has been stored correctly, attach a Smart-It!”
  • The Navihedron, developed by Roy Stringer and AMAZE (Liverpool, UK), arranging a Web site's information as points on a globe. On a globe with 12 points, each point would be no more than three clicks away from any other. And you could see the whole thing by rotating the globe on-screen. He calls this structure a "navihedron.” More recent examples of commercial software enabling intuitive, non-linear organization and access of information are TheBrain’s PersonalBrain, and PlumbDesign’s Visual Thesaurus, using ThinkMap software.
  • [PlumbDesign’s Visual Thesaurus]
  • Note: it is not possible to accurately reproduce a navihedron without loading Java software, as navihedra are movable three-dimensional geometric objects.
  • So, what if all these changes lead not merely to a simple transition from one primary medium of communication to another, but to a complete shift in mental structures? How will the generation after the millennials think?
  • Are we, thinkers educated in the transition from the industrial to the information age, trained in paradigms that are almost purely industrial age, asking the correct questions about what education infrastructure will best serve students in the decades beyond the information age, in a future where our rapidly evolving exploration and understanding of our own brains, and the mind-body -- and mind-machine! -- interface transforms our understanding not only of modes of communication, but of human consciousness itself?
  • Each of these successive forms of educational delivery does not replace its predecessor; rather, each new model subsumes the previous one. I do not pretend to know, nor would I presume to predict, what the education delivery systems of the future may be -- but I do know that our open dialogue about educational improvement must acknowledge advances in understanding the human brain and how consciousness is produced and structured. And it is currently one of the most rapidly advancing areas of scientific inquiry. So, to echo Dr. Glenn’s opening comments yesterday, we must begin to pose questions about educational models for the age of conscious technology, and the technologies of consciousness.
  • New Futures for Education: Beyond the Information Age.

    1. 1. New Futures for Education: Beyond the information age. WFS México, 7 November 2003 Dr. Wendy L. Schultz Infinite Futures
    2. 2. Current pressures <ul><li>Infrastructure inadequate </li></ul><ul><li>Infrastructure decay </li></ul><ul><li>Infrastructure lag </li></ul><ul><li>Teacher shortage </li></ul><ul><li>Budget crises </li></ul>
    3. 3. Education foresight projects <ul><li>Country foresight reports on education: UK, Denmark, Hong Kong, USA (California, New England, Hawai’I) </li></ul><ul><li>Regional reports: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training; OECD Programme on Educational Building. </li></ul>
    4. 4. NEA higher ed futures <ul><li>Market driven: </li></ul><ul><li>MacUniversity </li></ul><ul><li>Educational Maintenance Org. </li></ul><ul><li>Outsourced </li></ul><ul><li>Warehouse </li></ul><ul><li>Wired </li></ul><ul><li>Quality driven: </li></ul><ul><li>Access Community College </li></ul><ul><li>Community U. </li></ul><ul><li>Global Tech </li></ul><ul><li>Cutting Edge U. </li></ul>NEA, online at
    5. 10. “New” delivery systems… <ul><li>On-line classes hailed as: </li></ul><ul><li>Flexible, asynchronous </li></ul><ul><li>“Information-age” media </li></ul><ul><li>More accessible … the finest minds, from the world to your laptop </li></ul>
    6. 11. …or old models re-clothed? <ul><li>On-line classes often structured in lock-step: sequential daily input </li></ul><ul><li>Simply a transfer of print-based curricula to the internet </li></ul><ul><li>Teaching often outsourced to “gypsy scholars” -- cheaper in budget crises </li></ul><ul><li>Commercial: commodification of knowledge transfer. </li></ul>
    7. 12. Industrial ed is dead. Next? <ul><li>We no longer need to create the standardized factory worker; </li></ul><ul><li>We do need an adaptable work force that can acquire new skills quickly and continuously. </li></ul>Vos and Dryden, The Learning Revolution, 2001; http://www.thelearningweb/education-future.html
    8. 13. A myriad of models: <ul><li>Centralized (Singapore) </li></ul><ul><li>Decentralized (New Zealand) </li></ul><ul><li>Computers and chicks (Sweden) </li></ul><ul><li>Certification </li></ul><ul><li>Corporate </li></ul><ul><li>Give it away (MIT) </li></ul><ul><li>Internet sales (U. of Phoenix) </li></ul><ul><li>Foundation (ACoT) </li></ul><ul><li>Learning organization </li></ul><ul><li>Neo-Confucian </li></ul>Vos and Dryden, The Learning Revolution, 2001: http://www.thelearningweb/education-future.html
    9. 14. MIT gives it away free.
    10. 15. Get me out of the factory...
    11. 16. …and into a community.
    12. 17. Students in 2020… <ul><li>They layer identities -- multiple cultures, many interests, nomadic careers, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Post-millennial career women shatter the glass ceiling by getting more education than their brothers. </li></ul><ul><li>A “Participation Generation” -- tailoring products for themselves, collaborating on services they expect. </li></ul>
    13. 18. How do they play? <ul><li>Mass customization: their toys, consumer goods, clothes tailored to their exact desires. </li></ul><ul><li>Immersive media -- virtual reality and role-playing. </li></ul><ul><li>Participatory: networked games, synchronous and asynchronous. </li></ul><ul><li>Make their own movies/fiction/games. </li></ul><ul><li>Not team but extreme sports (catching big air). </li></ul>
    14. 19. New media, new languages <ul><li>Texting… like many pidgins: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Explosively deconstructs formal rules </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Accelerates -- but simplifies. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Gaming: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Promotes situational awareness: immediate apprehension of the gestalt of a situation; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Accelerates observe-and-respond reflexes -- but degrades emotional depth. </li></ul></ul>
    15. 20. In 2048, the last literate person dies.
    16. 21. It begins with hypertext & hypermedia... <ul><li>Enables in-depth annotation; </li></ul><ul><li>Mixes print and other media; </li></ul><ul><li>Allows multidimensional structuring of narratives and logical arguments…. </li></ul><ul><li>e.g., Earth by David Brin </li></ul>
    17. 22. It builds with smart ink & infinite books <ul><li>MIT’s Media Lab: “smart ink” embedded in the paper and electronically activated; the resulting </li></ul><ul><li>“infinite books” would also be infinitely interactive; </li></ul><ul><li>e.g., The Diamond Age </li></ul><ul><li>by Neal Stephenson </li></ul>
    18. 23. It expands with man-machine interfaces <ul><li>Current research on neuron-chip connections and thought-activated computers, means future wireless access at the speed of thought, </li></ul><ul><li>e.g., Oath of Fealty </li></ul><ul><li>by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle </li></ul>
    19. 24. And grows exponentially with ambient intelligence <ul><li>Ubiquitous microprocessors, embedded throughout the built environment, communicating wirelessly: </li></ul><ul><li>“ambient intelligence” </li></ul><ul><li>e.g., Star Trek’s computer access... </li></ul>
    20. 25. Until achieving non-linear rationality <ul><li>Shattering the linearity of print-based information presentation: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Stringer’s “navihedrons” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>PersonalBrain </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>ThinkMap: The Visual Thesaurus </li></ul></ul><ul><li>… what happens when an entire generation grows up in layered, multidimensional, multi-directional info environments? </li></ul>
    21. 27. u kood 3000 In year the this. red
    22. 28. u kood 2100 In year the this. red --a navihedron poster.
    23. 29. In 2048, the last literate person dies. linear thinker
    24. 30. Mental structures change... Can we extrapolate the mind of tomorrow -- and its education needs?
    25. 31. From Ravenclaw to Gryffindor <ul><li>From pre-defined, structured print to build-your-own multi-media </li></ul><ul><ul><li>from hot to cool , </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>from left / logical to right / intuitive </li></ul></ul><ul><li>From memory to experience </li></ul><ul><ul><li>read the instructions, or </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>test to destruction? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>From industrial to organic </li></ul>
    26. 32. “ Geodesic” thinking…. <ul><li>Not the end of literacy -- the end of linearity: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The rise in systems thinking, and chaos and complexity as scientific paradigms, as well as… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emergence of new oral culture on the foundation of voice input, and… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Immersive media/ambient intelligence, and… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hypermedia organized by navihedrons, leads to… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Point-to-multipoint thinking, rather than linear cause-and-effect thinking. </li></ul>
    27. 33. The next generation of students: “homo gestalt”? <ul><li>systems thinkers -- stress linkages; </li></ul><ul><li>“ post-cultural” -- no fixed cultural view; </li></ul><ul><li>expanded senses; </li></ul><ul><li>techno-telepathy; </li></ul><ul><li>void consciousness; </li></ul><ul><li>fluid, mutable social structures. </li></ul>
    28. 34. What will the new delivery systems be? <ul><li>Reading, writing, and repeating </li></ul><ul><li>Online commercial classes </li></ul><ul><li>Lifelong, adaptive, self-organized, open source </li></ul><ul><li>Education by infection? by meditation? </li></ul><ul><li>Expired </li></ul><ul><li>Tired </li></ul><ul><li>Wired </li></ul><ul><li>Biopsychologically </li></ul><ul><li>inspired? </li></ul>
    29. 36. We educate to create our futures. <ul><li>Our challenge: </li></ul><ul><li>not merely anticipating the needs, </li></ul><ul><li>but anticipating the minds of the children </li></ul><ul><li>who will create the 22nd century. </li></ul>
    30. 37. Thank you. WFS México, 7 November 2003 Dr. Wendy L. Schultz Oxford, England Infinite Futures