What Will Education Look Like In 20 Years or So?

If you do a Google search for “education of the future,” you will find thousands and thousands of posts and blogs dealing with what various academic leaders, teachers, employers, and even students feel is in store for the future of education. Indeed, this topic seems to be high on everyone’s list, especially now, as education is being significantly disrupted by new technologies and new ways of thinking.

Though there are many opinions about what education might look like in 20 years or so, most experts agree on at least the following predictions:

  • Education will use more technology. This isn’t really going out on a limb—every industry is using more technology. Mobile devices and adaptive learning algorithms are just two of the many technologies that are currently influencing education, and in many ways educational technology is really just getting going.
  • There will be more types of recognized credentials. Although the higher education system still operates primarily on the basis of degrees, alternative credentials are quickly taking up more room in the conversation. Professional and graduate certificates, offered as extension programs at traditional universities, are the credentials du jour. Meanwhile, governments, employers, and even some colleges and universities are starting to experiment with digital badges.
  • Education will be more flexible and more diverse. The current higher education system was designed with a “traditional” student in mind, meaning an 18-to-24 year-old who lives on campus and earns a degree between graduating from high school and entering the workforce. The problem, however, is that this vision describes a small and shrinking percentage of higher education’s actual consumers. As “non-traditional” learners (i.e., adult learners with jobs and families) continue to make up more of the student population, education will become more flexible to meet their needs.
  • More education will be offered online. The number of online programs, and the number of students taking them, has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, at least one-third of college students take at least one course online, and as the learner demographic continues to shift, this number will likely go up.
  • Education will be more personalized. The idea that the same model of education is good for everybody is quickly being supplanted by a focus on personalized education pathways.Degrees and other credentials won’t be subject to a one-size-fits-all philosophy, but rather there will be multiple pathways through which students can achieve their education goals.

One of the most interesting visions for the future of education comes from MIT, which has been a leader in the online learning and educational innovation spaces. Anant Agarwal, a professor of physics at MIT as well as CEO of edX, which is a non-profit massive open online course (MOOC) platform, has suggested that technology, MOOCs, and the current trend toward lifelong learning will converge to completely transform what education looks like.

Rather than students who spend four (or, more accurately, five or six) years living on campus to earn a degree, Agarwal’s vision for the future includes students spending a year learning online through MOOCs, followed by a couple of years on campus, and then a year continuing to take online courses while gaining practical experience out in the field. This final year may represent the last portion of the official degree program, but it will be only the beginning of a lifelong learning adventure.

There is an old saying: “It’s impossible to make predictions, especially about the future.” We can’t know today exactly what education will look like 20, or even 10, years down the road. Just think back to 10 years ago—at that time, MOOCs were unheard of and social media was just coming onto the scene. But we can say that it will be very, very different from the system we have today.

Author Bio: David Miller is an educational researcher who has vast experience in the field of teaching, Learning management system and online training. He is associated with prestigious universities and many leading educational research organizations. He’s also an ed-tech veteran, currently pursuing research in new eLearning developments, and is a contributing author with ProProfs.

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