The title of this module was “The Future of Learning” and, over the course of the past 6 weeks the general consensus was very much ‘who knows?’. That said, there is quite a considerable amount that people contributed during the course of many discussion, both in person and on Twitter and in blogs that could point the way to some general conclusions. Time is the only thing that will tell if we came anywhere near to the truth or if learning will go off in a completely different and unexpected direction. What was agreed, and is almost certain to prove to be correct, is that it is very unlikely to look like it does today! Technology has, and continues to, advance so rapidly that is is inconceivable that it will not have a significant impact on the delivery of education in the future. It cannot, and neither should it be, however, the future of learning of and in itself.
An idea for the use of technology in the future which came up in one of the earliest discussions was put forward by a colleague, Alan Sunny, in the group in which I was participating and that is the concept of ‘invisible, continuous, assessment’ – the idea that technology would be able to observe learners in the learning environment and make decisions as to whether they had achieved a specific learning objective and record the evidence to show it. If this could be achieved it would have so many positives – for one thing it would provide an alternative for the current destructive reliance on high-stakes assessment while provide a completely objective method of gauging progress of students and recording the evidence of their achievements for future reference. Personally I cannot think of a better use in education for technology than this.
The final ‘assignment’ for want of a better word for this particular course was to try to imagine what a school in a town in Mexico would look like in the year 2050. It was heartening to feel that the entire group still considered that some kind of physical space, a ‘school’, would be needed, even if it included things that would not currently be considered essential for education, such as a farm. A physical space is essential in order for the socialization of students to take place, a vital if somewhat underestimated consequence of schooling.
The whole group came up with some interesting ideas but what struck me was that no one tried to define what the curriculum would look like, other than it would be a continuum with students progressing based on competency rather than age, after an initial age-based introduction. Content was very much off the agenda, rightly so in my opinion. It is impossible to predict what might be on the curriculum in 2050 because we cannot foresee what will be important to society at that time. A valid question raised was whether what we describe as ‘literacy’ and ‘numeracy’ will still have a place in a future curriculum? The current pace of advances in technology means that the ability to read, write and perform simple arithmetical tasks may well be one area which could be easily passed to machines in the near future: voice recognition and transcription software already exists.
Were this to happen, it would not be an advance in my opinion. Apart from the fact that some kind of mental activity is required in the early years of development in order to aid neurological development it raises the question of how much of our humanity are we going to be prepared to pass across to machines? What are these machines there for – to make our lives easier or to take our lives over? But that’s a question for another time.
The content of the curriculum will be an essential aspect of the future of learning and raises a number of issues beyond simply schooling but relates to the centrality of why we educate; what is the purpose of education? The current primacy of economics in every aspect of our lives is worrying, to me at least. Bodies such as the World Economic Forum, an unelected and unrepresentative trade organisation for the world’s leading multinational corporations is already seeking to dominate national and local school policies by inextricably linking business to education. Their policies and recommendations seek to enrich these very global corporations by using education systems around the world to produce workers with the “right” skills – those valued and demanded by those very corporations. This emphasis on “human capital” seeks to determine and control the social capital of the family. Unchecked, we are heading for a world of rich and poor, haves and have nots, where compassion, altruism and empathy are tools for efficiency rather than drivers for social and economic justice. Education is a driver for social justice, not a tool for international capitalism and globalisation to increase the (already insane) differential between the top 1% and the bottom 50%.
The biggest danger for the future of education as we know it is not the indiscriminate use of technology but the creeping influence of bodies such as the OECD, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum as they seek to dominate the political and economic agendas of individual countries and the world as a whole, seeking to become the de facto World Government, imposing its doctrines on governments and their people whether they like it or not.
“This could become a world of human worker robots and economic masters who live on a slowly deteriorating planet where the economisation of the environment or, as it is called, sustainable development, results in human inaction to protect the environment and other species.” (Spring, 2015 p.149). The future of education must lie in resisting the seemingly inexorable progress of the global elite, putting the progress of the human race back in the hands of the ordinary people and restoring balance and harmony to our world.
Spring, J. (2015) Economization of Education: Human Capital, Global Corporations, Skills-Based Schooling. New York: Routledge