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Ubiquitous and Life-Long Learning

In 2050 children will live in a world with no separation between the virtual and physical life. They will be empowered by 21st century technologies, which have been deeply integrated into teaching. Learning will likewise be integrated into their daily lives and will take place in many places – not only in class rooms directed by teachers. 

On top of traditional teaching methods – pupils will interact with their study topics. They will interview Napoleon Bonaparte, they will travel virtually on earth and in the galaxy, while studying history, geography and astronomy. Pupils will also learn many languages, including coding in order to be able to understand and work with the technology around them. Curricula will be more flexible. The focus will shift from memorising learning materials to critical thinking and analysis. If you need information, then you can search for it.

The wide range of educational innovations and experiments occurring today, many of them linked to the new physical technologies now becoming widely available, will shape this future.  New technical platforms (augmented reality, pervasive mobile computing, adaptive learning platforms, and gamification) and new approaches to teaching (place-based learning, connected learning, and blended learning) will all contribute to this significant transformation in learning.

Across the US 43% of school district administrators now offer online courses for their students, according to the 2013 Trends in Online Learning report.  Among those educators experimenting with new models of teaching, 60% of those in flipped learning classes think that online learning generates more motivation students than traditional settings.  Among the parents of today’s youth, 89% want their children in classes that incorporate mobile devices in some fashion.  As the Millennial generation matures and comes to make up a greater percentage of the parenting population, this expectation and demand is likely to increase.

In 2050 life-long learning will be central and the boundaries between school, university and work will be blurred. Higher education will be to a big extent delivered online and new ways of reaching learners will constantly appear. Also, more people will be reached as learning places are accessible to all.

The roles of current universities and academics will have changed. Students will not necessarily be geographically close to their centre of teaching. Traditional, physical lectures and tutoring will still happen, but will to a large extent take place online. Professors will also specialise. Those who are brilliant in presentations will deliver lectures, others specialise in research or curriculum design.

Thanks to the advances in technology and change in society, education will be accessible to everyone all throughout their lives. Working and studying will happen in parallel and at many different stages of a person's life.

The growth in online learning options has been rapid and pronounced.  According to a 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning almost 2/3 of for-profit educational institutions in the United States say that online learning options are very important to their long term strategies.  Additionally, the growth rate for online student enrollments in 2010 was 21%, and The Sloan Consortium report Changing Course shows that 32% of higher education students were taking at least one online course as of 2011, up from 11.7% in 2003.

The expected continued growth in mobile access to information will further enable and speed these developments.  According to Google’s report Digital & the New College Experience, 74% of college students now own smartphones and 42% own a tablet or e-reader.  Some 86% of college students now supplement their campus-based physical courses with free online resources.

Trends and Weak Signals:

  • Spread of hybrid models of education
  • Growth of online courses
  • Growing ubiquity of mobile devices and mobile internet access
  • Growing demand for non-traditional learning options
  • Increasing interest in “gamifying” education
  • Increasing efforts to establish skills “badges” for credentialing learning
  • Spread of knowledge technologies
  • Massively-online courses (MOOCs) will have a major impact on universities  in the near future
  • Virtual classrooms will make students less geographically bound to their schools and universities, although as humans are social animals, learners will still meet in real life.
  • Life-long learning
  • Mobility of students
  • More people study

Note:
The results of all brainstormings that took place at the "Ground-breaking Policies for Future Societies" workshop, including this very vision, can be found here.

Challenges: 
  • Redefining/renegotiating the roles of schools and professional educators
  • Navigating the workforce implications: prospective employees will need to present credentials that employers accept
  • Negotiating the potential shift in the role of the State in an individual’s education
Opportunities: 
  • Virtual and online education might produce greater short term returns on investment versus traditional education due to the increase in student access and the lower logistical costs
  • If personalized and life-long learning prove effective, then society might gain a better educated, more adaptive citizenry
  • The data that will be produced by these learning systems will provide much greater and more deeper insight into the interests, talents, and skills of the citizenry
Questions: 
Where will learning happen? Will people come together physically or will people only meet in virtual classrooms? Where will socialisation primarily take place?
Where will socialisation primarily take place?
How will we continue to foster key "human" skills like team work and personal relationships if most teaching is virtual?
What is the role of the teacher? How much face-to-face interaction will there be between the students and the teachers?
How will the quality of education change as a result of the specialisation of those delivering it?
How will we ensure the quality of education that is delivered?
Will people still handwrite, or will they only type or use voice-based transcription software?
What will happen with learning establishments with the increase of globally delivered education and accreditation?
How will we control the global validation of credentials?
How will we ensure that new education platforms are accessible to the less advantaged?
How will we monitor student progress and achievements remotely, also with respect to issues of integrity, in view of awarding their final accreditation?
How will we manage different languages for the delivery of education and ensure that local languages are not completely over-shadowed by English?
Will industry be more involved in contributing to training and research? If so, will greater synergies between industry and education result in better employment pathways?
How will opportunities for international experiences and exchanges for students continue to exist?
How will individual ability be enhanced? Will the use of performance enhancing drugs in education environments and increasing competitiveness become widespread? Will it be possible to download knowledge directly into the brain?
Will you be able to download knowledge direct into your brain?
If much of a child’s learning is online or not in the traditional classroom, then what will we do with the physical school campus and where will the children be during the day?

Underpinning policy ideas