7 Reasons You Should Be Excited About the Future of Learning

By AJ Juliani on September 04, 2016

In the year 1820, a person could expect to live less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less that 20% of the population was literate. Today, human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty, and over 80% of people are literate. These improvements are due mainly to advances in technology, beginning in the industrial age and continuing today in the information age. – Chris Dixon

I’m excited. Like, really, really, really, excited.

Technology has gone from a toy, to an event, to a commodity, to a way of life. And learning has been attached along the way. Maybe we don’t always see learning and technology hand-in-hand, but the two are deeply connected and fuel each other every day.

Part of the issue of not seeing this connection is by thinking about learning in a “school only” box. But, if you open up your idea of what learning is, where it takes place, who does it, and why it happens—then you’ll notice that every new technology has been spawned by us learning. And we’ve been able to learn more (and a quicker pace) because of the new technologies that have been invented.

This leads me to excitement over what is to come in the next 5, 10, 20 years in terms of technology’s impact on learning (not just in schools).

I’m starting an 8-post series on the Future of Learning (sign-up below to be notified of new posts). This post is an overview of the seven areas that excite me about the future of learning, and follow-up posts will go into more detail the implications for each area. As Wait But Why has pointed out, we are on the cusp of some serious human progress!

Picture via Waitbutwhy.com
Picture via Waitbutwhy.com

Here are the seven reasons I’m pumped for the future of learning, based on what we know is already developed and currently being developed in the fields of emerging technology.

1.  Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is already all around us. Any time a device, machine, or digital object has cognitive functioning we get artificial intelligence. Think about thermostats like Nest, that know what temperature the house should be without it being input by a human. We don’t see it as “artificial intelligence”, but just a new and cool technology, that eventually becomes normal.

What’s interesting is that AI has grown by leaps in the past decade, and the past few years. So much so that Elon Musk created an organization, OpenAI, to help in the advancement and also control of AI in the coming years (he’s a bit scared of the implications).

Here’s what Wired magazine said about the coming AI revolution:

But in the field of AI, the change is real. Inside places like Google and Facebook, a technology called deep learning is already helping Internet services identify faces in photos, recognize commands spoken into smartphones, and respond to Internet search queries. And this same technology can drive so many other tasks of the future. It can help machines understand natural language—the natural way that we humans talk and write. It can create a new breed of robot, giving automatons the power to not only perform tasks but learn them on the fly. And some believe it can eventually give machines something close to common sense—the ability to truly think like a human.

In education, AI is already having an impact, but most of us don’t see it in our classrooms. As author Kevin Kelly says, “If AI can help humans become better chess players, it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.”

Here are the basics, before I jump into more detail in the follow-up post: Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines. In computer science, an ideal “intelligent” machine is a flexible rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal.

For example, wouldn’t it be nice if you could answer all those student questions with the same level of understanding and humanity as a short conference, but at anytime and anywhere? IBM Watson has created an open and free way to do that with Watson, their AI interface.

You can go to IBM now and within 10-minutes have a chatbot setup to answer student questions about a specific assignment or topic, without you ever being in the room (or online). Then every time a student asks a question that Watson doesn’t understand, you can help train the program to answer responses that are like this with answers that are already programmed into the AI.

Crazy stuff right? But it’s here and happening right now. (Note: I’m currently building my first chatbot and it’s a lot of fun. You can to0, with directions from IBM here.)

2. Virtual Reality

If you think Virtual Reality is all about fun and games, well you are about half right 🙂

It seems VR headsets like Google Cardboard are popping up in more and more places. But right now VR is stuck in a similar holding place that the first laptops or tablets or computers were when they first came out: searching for a purpose.

But, this seems to be the calm before the storm. If you are just hearing about VR, and have only experienced a Google Cardboard version of this technology, watch out because Virtual Reality is set to grow by 13,000% in the next few years. That’s an adoption rate 5-times faster that the iPhone.

VR is going to be used for everything in education. It will be used (and currently is being used) to simulate real-world learning experiences, have students sitting next to Einstein in space as he explains his theory of relativity, and much more.

In my follow up article, I cover the growth of the technology, how it’s being used and being planned on being used in training around the world, and what the big players like Oculus Rift are working on.

3. Augmented Reality

At this point in time last year, the Augmented Reality community was small but growing. People were using it for games, teachers were using apps like Aurasma and ColorAR, and it seemed to be a “fun” thing to do or try out. Flash forward a year and AR is all anyone is talking about thanks to PokemonGo. The Augmented Reality game has been AR’s “iPhone” moment, with it hitting the mainstream on an international scale.

Much has been written about using PokemonGo or AR in education. In fact, my two friends Brad and Drew have been writing, speaking, and demonstrating this for years over at TwoGuysandSomeIpads.com. But, there is much more that is going to take place over the next five years.

For example, imagine a world where students can hold up their smartphone and see what elements different materials are made out of (it’s coming), or hold up their phone and see real live battles in the fields of Gettysburg (it’s here), or better yet walk around with a wearable technology (like Google Glass) and have their entire life “gamified” in augmented reality. These things are not far off, or they are currently here, and as educators, it is going to transform what our classrooms look like.

4. 3D Printing (and manufacturing)

3D Printing is hot right now. Did you know they are 3D printing houses? And in China, they just did a real 3D printing of apartment buildings!

Beyond that, we’ve seen 3D printing revolutionize the maker industry and spark inventors to actually create at their houses, in their garages, and in schools around the world.

The ability to prototype and create real products in school continues to become easier, cheaper, and faster. Students can now work their way through the LAUNCH cycle, iterating on demand.

What excites me most about 3D printing is that this is only the beginning. As the equipment becomes cheaper, it will soon become ubiquitous in houses and places around the country (and world). Think of the exponential growth in patents this will cause in the coming years. Our students will have the ability to turn ideas into products, without worrying about the cost to outsource and manufacture it like in year’s past.

Let’s see what happens 🙂

5. Powerful Mobile and Wearable Devices

We all have some of the most powerful computers in the history of mankind in our pockets. That computing power is coming to our watches, glasses, and almost any other article of clothing or piece of equipment we can wear or put on.

“Right now, a Masai warrior on a mobile phone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago. If he’s on a smart phone using Google, he has access to more information than the U.S. president did just 15 years ago.” — Peter Diamandis

The quote above says it all. It’s the best time (EVER) to be a learner in the history of the world. It’s the best time (EVER) to be a communicator, collaborator, and creator.

Are you taking advantage of the powerful device you have in your pocket?

6. Educational Access for All

Chris Dixon pointed out that:

By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have an internet-connected smartphone. An iPhone 6 has about 2 billion transistors, roughly 625 times more transistors than a 1995 Intel Pentium computer. Today’s smartphones are what used to be considered supercomputers.

And with the growth of online education put out by schools, companies, colleges, organizations, institutions and individuals—that means by 2020 anyone with an internet-connected smartphone will have access to a potential world class education.

The key word here is potential. I firmly believe a quality education must include learning in an environment where four key factors are present: human, social, meaning-centered, and lanuage-based learning. However, those four factors are found now online more than any other time, and with VR and AR continuing to grow, it may lead to a vastly different online learning experience than what we have right now (which is, for what it’s worth, pretty darn good).

7. Space Is Back

Thanks in large part to Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, Americans (and the rest of the world) are interested in space again.

Why is this important to learning you might ask?

Well, we’ve seen a huge push towards “STEM” or “STEAM” learning and careers over the past decade. Yet, there hasn’t been a key moment in our time/recent history drawing young kids towards these types of careers.

Watching Astronauts travel to Mars, or land on a asteroid (to mine for resources), is just the type of moment we are looking for. If we want our next generation to get excited about the possibilities of STEAM careers, the new space age is what might actually push them towards these fields.

What else would you add to the list? This is the first in my 8-part series on the Future of Learning. I can’t wait to dive deeper into each of these seven areas!

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