Homeschooling and e-learning - the future of education as I see it

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Over the past few years technology has completely changed the way we live and the way we do things. We are all now walking around with computers in our pockets, in the form of smartphones. Those in the know are even saying we will soon have computers implanted under our skins or even in our brains. Since things are changing so fast and that's not likely to stop any time soon, I started thinking about what schooling is going to be like in the future. How are our grand children going to be educated? Because schools or the education system, as we know it, will most likely be done in completely new ways. With the popularity of tablets and smartphones children all over the world will soon stop using books. (I guess pen manufacturers should also be worried about their future.) Is that the only big change we are likely to see? I don't think so. Anyway, here is what I think the future has in store for us regarding education.

 
The current lecture room full of pupils
 
 
Examples of sites with video lectures
We have all heard and may be even used the online education materials provided for free by institutions such as AcademicEarth (with lectures from universities such as Havard, Cambridge, MIT, Oxford, Princeton, etc.), Khan AcademyCoursera, NPTEL (India's National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning), etc. That's already a huge development from the days when the only source of knowledge was the local library, the teacher or the books handed down from generation to generation. Not that long ago, the arrival of the PC brought a revolution of epic proportions to the education system, that is even comparable to the French Revolution. Bill Gates and other great people like him managed to put a computer in the hands of the masses and revolutionised the way we learn. Then came the Internet revolution which made knowledge even more accessible. We could all browse and find the information we needed in the comfort of our dwellings, be it a house, hotel or at work. All that was required was an Internet connection and a browser. Of course, at the beginning it was all monochromatic stuff, but who remembers that? Were they even called browsers back then?  
 
Here comes the cloud
Now the cloud revolution is upon us. Never has knowledge been so easily accessible in the history of mankind. With the help of applications like Pocket or Evernote, Google alerts, Wikipedia, etc. in a matter of hours one can look for the best available information on any topic and compile material that is better than any book ever written. That's true. Let us say you want to learn about reproduction (randomly chosen topic by the way :-)). It's a matter of just going to the almighty Google and asking for the information. In a matter of seconds, Google will provide you with the best possible information. It even ranks it for you by relevancy, making the job of finding the most relevant material as easy as locating the top of the search engine results. It's not always as easy as that because Google also makes mistakes from time to time, but I hope you get the point. Follow the same process for each and every topic you are interested in and in minutes you have a book complied. This reminds me of a joke I heard from a friend of mine, Dr Ranganayi Chaparadza, one of the great minds researching and shaping the future of the Internet. He says that since black people are not so keen to put their hands on books, when white folks do not want us to know something, they hide it in the books. :-) Not literally, of course.
 
Let information find you
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. So you have now collected the best possible resources on all the topics you are interested in. In the good old days you would now print out everything and have a tangible paper book. Those days are over. We are all about using renewable resources, right? There is a new kid, or should I say new technology, on the block. That's where tools like Evernote, Pocket or ReadItLater come in. You just clip or send your material to these applications and you can read the stuff from your mobile device offline. You do have a mobile device, don't you? When I say it has never been so easy to find information, I really mean it. Searching on google is good, but if you want to stay on top of things and get fresh information, as it appears online, it is possible. Our good old friend Google again comes to your rescue. You set so-called google alerts and Google will inform you of any new posts on your topic of interest. I hear Google is planning to abandon Google Alerts, but there are similar services out there like Talkwalker that will do the job. 
 
Now that you can set alerts, you no longer have to rely on stale information in the same books that your ancestors used. You get the latest possible information from any corner of the world delivered to your inbox. Unbelievable, but we are living in times where information can find you instead of you looking for it. And believe me, there are some great minds all over this world that are willing to share their knowledge. There is no need to be restricted to that one book that your professor says is the best. You don't even have to be restricted to the same professor that your school or university forces on you. Those days are long gone. If you are the kind of person who prefers watching your professor dishing out the knowledge, the visual kind of guy, don't let that stop you from harnessing the power of technology. You simply go online and watch lectures from the best professors in the world. The interesting thing is that if you are learning some modern stuff, you might even stumble upon lectures by the people who invented or came up with the theory that you are trying to learn. For example, when I have problems wrapping my head around some of the programming topics that I am interested in, I visit David J. Malan's lectures right here . I can watch his lectures conducted at Havard University in the comfort of my home, thousands of kilometres away. That's knowledge at your finger tips right there.
 
Is homeschooling the next step?
Now that information is so easy to access, will it still be necessary to go to school or attend lectures? There has been a lot of talk about homeschooling and e-learning of late. Like they say, what goes around comes around. Long ago homeschooling was the norm. Those whose parents where rich enough to afford a tutor or those who were lucky enough to have an educated parent or relative, were the ones who got a decent education. I believe we are going back in the same direction. At least, with the information so readily available, homeschooling is a reality. Parents no longer have to know each and every topic to be able to educate their children at home. With proper planning and research, a child could actually finish school without ever attending a school lesson. The only time the child would need to go to school would be to take exams. 
 
Homeschooling will take over
Image credit: MathewWhatley
 
Will compulsory lectures cease to exist?
The same can be said about university education. I believe that in the near future attending lectures will completely cease to be compulsory across the globe. Online applications and tools will be created where students will be able to complete courses at their own pace by watching high definition videos or hologram virtual professors. In some places this is already happening but on a small scale. Forums will be set up where students can discuss and solve issues. A voting system like the one used on Reddit would be made available to make it possible for difficult topics that require reinforcement to rise to the top. Live lectures would then be provided for those interested, where the professor would solve issues and answer students' questions. And again the only time students would need to appear at the university would be to take exams or to do practical lessons. Online studies will become the norm and universities will become membership sites where students will have member accounts. The professors will be able to track students' progress online and the students will give their professors feedback using the system. This kind of education requires the students to be responsible adults. Whether that is possible or not, that's a different issue. I know a thing or two about this problem because the first university I attended had a similar system. Only practical lessons were compulsory. Only those mature and responsible enough to take their future into their own hands would finish studies. Correspondence courses completed by millions across the globe have already proven that this is possible.
 
I am sure you are wondering if this idea of membership sites and on demand information distribution would work. Well, after using sites as CodeAcademy to learn programming and Quizlet  to teach my son spelling and other things, I would say the chances are really high. I have even worked with 10 year old kids who learnt JavaScript programming after I had introduced them to CodeAcademy. If a 10 year old kid can do it, an undergraduate student shouldn't have serious problems with it. All it takes is dedication, focus, responsibility and the will to put your future in your own hands. As Peter Drucker said, "The best way to predict your future is to create it." 
 
What else does the future have in store for the college graduate?
Now let's talk about the future of employment for those future graduates. Employers are always talking about how the college education that students get is not always good enough for their needs. That's also not likely to change. The thing is, when graduates get their first job, they are usually not ready for it. They have the theory, but lack the practical knowledge to put theory into practice. As one wise person said, "Knowledge without practice is useless, practice without knowledge is dangerous." Employers usually have to educate candidates before they become full-fledged employees with the necessary knowledge to do their jobs properly. You may be wondering why this is a problem. Well, it is a problem because the employer is always looking at the bottom line. Paying an employee who is not yet doing his job, but is still undergoing training doesn't make sense to the employer. Even if the employee is being paid peanuts. I believe technology will change this situation very soon. How so, you say? Read on to find out. 
 
With the available technology, employers are going to set up membership sites with lessons that candidates need to go through before they get employed. So candidates will be short listed and given access to the membership site to educate themselves on the way things are done in their future employer's company. After attending the course, they would take tests, most probably through some kind of mobile application. The winners would then get employed. This could actually be a win-win situation for the candidate and the employer. The employer would get the best possible employee without spending a dime, and the candidate would get a new set of skills. Even if he doesn't get the job, he could still use the new skills in another company, which means he will be better qualified for the next job application. 
 
Even more experience and tangible results will be required to get a job
Another possibility is that employers will be looking for people who have already done something to prove their interest, capability and creativity in the profession that they would like to follow. This will most probably affect computer science graduates the most. Since it's so easy to create stuff or build a presence online, undergraduates will be expected to prove themselves by blogging, developing apps or other means so that they have a body of work before they graduate. Let's take someone who is interested in content marketing or search engine optimisation or programming as an example. Instead of approaching an employer with a diploma full of As, it will be more important to have a site that you have opmitised or built content on that is ranking well in search engines. The programming graduate will be expected to have produced something tangible like a working application. Candidates will first have to prove that they have got the chops in order for employers to hire them. So building a body of work online will be the way to go for most graduates in technology related fields. Since lectures will not be compulsory, students will have time for other things such as part-time work. That is, if work will be available.
 
Homeschooling the future of education
 
How will social life change?
We all know that school is not only about reading books or attending lectures. There is a social side to education that is very important. People have the need to have friends, belong to a group or just to learn to live with other members of society. The question is, if homeschooling or off-campus education becomes the norm, how are future pupils and students going to learn those soft skills we all need to be valuable members of the society? Since we are already spending so much time on social media sites such as Facebook, Tiwitter, etc. what's the situation going to be like in the future? Will our grandchildren be carrying apps on their hands like we used to carry watches? Will they stop talking face to face? I can't say let's wait and see because I will probably not live that long to see the changes. If I were to be granted a single wish, that's what it would be. To live to see the big changes in the way we live as influenced by the ever improving technology available to humankind. 
 
What do you think the future of schooling is going to look like? Will people have computers or apps for brains? Will homeschool become the norm? Leave a comment below.

 

Tue, 21 May 2013