When many people envision the future of technology in education, they simply envision wider adoption of current technologies. This will certainly be part of it, as tablets and interactive whiteboards spread to more and more classrooms. However, that will only be the beginning of the changes that could transform learning as we know it.
The Next Ten Years: Total Internet Access, Interactive Tables, Gamification, and 3D Printers
The next ten years will likely see a near-universal adoption of Wifi in modern schools. Students will have personal devices that can access the internet in order to use blended learning applications.
As the cost of screens goes down, we also will likely see some classrooms move beyond tablets to fully interactive tables and desks. An interactive desk could help model many processes for students. Even more importantly, it would make it easy for students to tab between multiple web resources and their active assignments.
The new screens work well with an ongoing trend in education: gamification. You might not know it, but video game companies are quickly becoming some of the world’s best designers of motivation schedules. The key feature of games, as opposed to real life, is that they provide steady and predictable positive feedback for progressively harder tasks. When a person plays a game, for the first few hours they advance to new levels rather quickly. When the levels become harder, gamers are still encouraged to keep trying because they know from earlier that it feels good to finally succeed. Many educators are trying to learn from the success of video games. They try to begin courses with well-defined rewards, often unrelated to the final grade. Some teachers use points systems, food rewards, or even cooler avatar pictures on online forums. It doesn’t matter if the reward is functionally useless; as video games show, anything that keeps track of a person’s progress using milestones can be motivational.
The final change that we will see in the next ten years is the adoption of 3D printers in some schools. 3D printers would allow both teachers and students to design real objects. These will help create teaching aids, and will be a powerful new tool training the designers and scientists of tomorrow.
The Next Fifty Years: Algorithmic Teaching
As computer processing power increases, so too will computers’ ability to observe and analyze the real world. This is leading towards a future where computer algorithms can automatically scaffold student lesson plans to make them appropriate to each student and measure the success of individual class segments.
Algorithms have already been used to great success by Google and other websites. The can accurately predict a person’s consumer habits, article preferences, romantic interests, and even mood. Soon, they will also be able to predict classroom participation. By analyzing years of data about a student, an algorithm could determine the lesson plans, activities, and scheduling that will best educate that students. This can take the planning out of teaching, leaving teachers more time for one-on-one contact with students.
Algorithms can also help teachers check up on their performance in real time. Some cameras and experimental robots have technology that allows them to track where people are looking. In the classroom, a similar program could track students’ focus. This can help teachers understand when in their lessons they lose the attention of their students, and refine their lessons accordingly.