The world looks a lot different than it did for our parents. Companies do more and more remotely. Business is increasingly a global concern. Workers are expected to be digitally literate. It trickles down (or maybe it’s bubbling up) – students in elementary programs are using mobile devices inside and outside the classroom, engaging with technology at a remarkable rate. The classroom of tomorrow is going to be a remarkably different place than today.
It needs to be. Today, the notion of work is very different from even just a few years ago. Going to work is less about being at a particular location and more about getting things done through an interconnected web of people and tools. Employees are no longer bound to a desk and an office like they were 20 years ago. Educators are going to face increasing pressure to mimic the environments they are preparing their students for.
But it goes beyond that. The nature of work itself in America is changing. As blue collar opportunities continue to disappear, more and more of the population is going to need training and advanced education to take advantage of the new emerging fields. That means that colleges need to prepare for ever greater numbers of nontraditional students. Used to interfacing with consumer technology but uncomfortable with professional and academic standards, these students will have greater scheduling, logistics, and cultural challenges. Whether embracing digital natives or welcoming adults with their own schedules and responsibilities, the classroom of tomorrow will need to be able to meet students where they are.
Building a Sustainable Online Learning Environment
One fear many schools have about online learning is whether it will mean the end of traditional colleges. After all, why would you need the thousands of schools we have now, each with their own distinct personality, when everyone can just take the same course online? Someone could just record the definitive lecture on Monte Carlo simulations (or King Lear, or covalent bonds, or marketing funnels, or any other topic), and no one would ever need another class on that particular topic again.
But while the global trends towards connectivity and video communication are making online learning increasingly attractive, a one-size-fits-all approach is never going to solve the problems we face. It ignores other equally huge trends in technology, trends like openness and personalization.
Harnessing Technology Trends for Better Online Learning
The key that will allow schools to continue to compete as online resources grow more prevalent is the quality of the interactions they can offer. We’ve already seen this in the early experiments with MOOCs. The huge dropout rates imply that simply throwing courses up online is not going to meet the needs for quality education. To compete in an online environment, schools will need to use technology to make learning more interactive and personalized, not less. The classroom of tomorrow may be asynchronous and geographically dispersed, but it will offer a greater level of personalization and connection than possible in a giant lecture hall.
Video is not just for recording mass communications, but also for building personal relationships. In a world that changes so fast and has so many different perspectives to offer, tomorrow’s curriculum will not be a single monolithic entity. Instead, it will be fluid and ever changing, as new experiences recontextualize old information. Professors won’t have a single lecture that will be simply rewatched for decades to come. Instead, every class will be captured, so information stays fresh and relevant, available to students any time or place they need it. Professors and students will interact through video captured from their desktops to build personal relationships even if they can never meet in a physical location at the same time.
The schools that succeed will take their unique brands and lean into them. They will use technology to offer their staff’s valuable viewpoints to a wider, more diverse audience. Tomorrow’s students may never actually leave the classroom; the rate of change may demand that we all continue to learn for our entire career. But tomorrow’s classroom will prepare students for an ever-more-connected workplace and world.