The Future of Learning is Going to Be Empowering (and Scary)

Lately, I’ve been obsessing over the future of learning. That has included a lot of research and time spent analyzing trends in technology, especially those that will impact the education sector. There are some great publications and sites that have helped my research (more on that in upcoming posts), but the ones focused on education are relatively few. It’s ironic that education promotes individuals and groups to create technological advances, but lags behind in adopting/embracing many of those new technologies.

Thus far this is what I’ve found:

  1. The Future of Learning is going to be exciting and empowering for students, teachers, administrators, and parents.
  2. The Future of Learning is going to be scary for teachers, administrators, and parents (not students).

Not sure what I mean? The classic technology paradox here is easier to understand with a few analogies.

The Technology Paradox

Take for instance smartphones. Smartphones give many students access to information, online networks, communication, collaborative opportunities and the web in general. A large number of these students may not own a computer, and therefore the smartphones put information directly at their fingertips.

This is great.

However, smartphones can also connect these students to hundreds of other ways to learn what they want to learn or even avoid learning while in the classroom. Many teachers and schools have been afraid to allow smartphones in class because of the “negative” possibilities. Smartphones define this paradox in education where technology can solve one issue but create an entirely new issue (specifically for the adults in charge).

One of the growing technological trends in education is what I call On Demand Education. It’s the ability for students to learn at any time, from anywhere. This, again, is great. Future students may be able to set their own “learning” schedule, to get work done when they want.

But if I remember correctly, I was a fairly successful procrastinator in high school. How many students will have the will-power and scheduling abilities to do this “On Demand” education successfully? Does it give another out and/or excuse for those students who have better things to do in their mind?

Technology to Empower

Technology has consistently put the control and ownership of learning back into the hands of the learner. This loss of control is what scares many teachers, administrators, and parents. But it’s also what excites and empowers our learners.

Jen Roberts TECH Graphic explains the various levels of going from total teacher control to complete student ownership with technology:

TECH for Teachers and Students by Jen Robers

How often do we “handoff” the learning? And if we don’t hand it off, and the students have access to a learning device that allows them to do that on their own, how can we possibly expect to have motivated, engaged, and empowered students?

Imagine in a few years, a world in which  students have all of the same access they currently have on their smartphone, but readily available at any time just by looking through digital contacts in their eyes.

You may be saying, “That’s crazy AJ, it’s never going to happen.”

But what if I told you 15-20 years ago that students would have this device in their pocket that had answers to all your questions, and better information than you can find in any one school or classroom, and that it would connect them to thousands of experts, mentors, peers, and friends that can participate in their learning?

You’d say I was crazy then…and you’d be wrong. Because that is the world we are living in now, and the change is continuing at an exponential pace.

This video does a better job explaining the technological paradox than I ever could. Please watch to the end for full effect (and understanding). As I continue to look at the future of learning, I do so excitedly (even if it might look a bit scary).

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  • John Bennett says:

    It is my firm belief that ‘handoff’ is absolutely required. The Effective Learning skills developed through student controlled efforts are critical to the lifelong learning that make possible success in careers and personal lives – regardless how one defines that success. Indeed I would argue this should be the top goal of formal education.

    I would also argue that teacher fear of such class facilitation is simply inappropriate. Young children are incredibly curious and creative in their play. Teachers in elementary grades need only ask real world, age-appropriate driving questions involving appropriate standards. The curiosity and creativity will take over, using technology as needed, and reporting out in astounding ways. My guess is that the students will involve the technology appropriately – with inexperienced teachers learning from them. Personal teacher development via social media, EdCamps, … are also widely available.

    The biggest hurdle, frankly, involves older students not experiencing Effective Learning in lower grades. Sadly, they will likely be in the ‘tell me what I need to know so I can repeat it back on assessments’ mode. It will be necessary to make learning expectations clear, provide good driving questions with age-specific interests, and good facilitating / mentoring. But for the reasons noted in the beginning of these comments, I strongly believe this approach is required.

    The fear of failure I expect will be greatest for the teachers. But modeling the expectation of failure from time to time with creative and thus risky efforts and the learning from those failures will encourage students’ doing the same. The only true failures are never taking risks or quitting after the first indication of problems.

    May I offer this encouragement to teachers fearful of this facilitation of Effective Learning? The rewards of the engagement and subsequent outcomes and Effective Learning of your students will be sooooo rewarding!!!!

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  • […] Adding technology into your classroom can be a scary thing, especially if you don’t have experience with it yourself and your students are at very different skill levels. This article from GettingSmart.com suggests five ways to become more comfortable: 5 Ways to Become More Comfortable with Technology in Your Classroom. Another article by A.J. Juliani explains how the future of learning may be both empowering and scary: The Classic Technology Paradox. […]

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