Future of learning: decentralised and self-guided?

There is often a lag between the emergence of disruptive factors and an industry undergoing transformational change. Fifty years passed between the emergence of canned food and the can opener, for example. For these fifty years we had the means of preserving food but not a modern way of extracting it. Although today’s gaps are in many cases shorter, they can still prove hazardous, not least because we tend to discount technologies and mediums that have appeared but not yet changed the world. Technology and education stands out as one clear example of this.


The internet may have already reduced a few critical barriers to change of educational models – access and availability as well as cost, but quality has generally remained an obstacle. MIT has recently added an adjunct certification process onto its MOOC offerings[i], helping to boost both the program’s financial viability and removing another barrier to the type of continuous learning advocated by many urging change in our learning and education systems.

Commentators often look for a big-bang change moment to confer shifts in paradigms, but the evolution of MIT’s MOOCs suggests that several waves evolution will be enough to confer radical changes. In effect the new model delivers value for money, efficiency in time and is more targeted than traditional length degrees. Indeed, David Gelernter, the Yale computer scientist suggests that ‘…over 90% of U.S. colleges will be gone within the next generation, since students demand value for their money and society demands colleges that work[ii].’ In its place, he suggests a wave of alternative credentials certified by a range of gatekeepers could emerge, with A.I presumably playing a key role in determining where gaps exist in an individuals’ education or learning and suggesting optimal – and not necessarily standard – ways to fill them.

Indeed as the pressure for continuous learning grows, both as a result of automation and companies’ demand for ever more adaptive workforces, the need for on-demand learning experiences will grow. Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute even suggests that ‘…by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet[iii].’ Whilst many companies are struggling to integrate external learning platforms into their learning opportunities, they are at least in some cases exploring new ways of putting the employee in charge of the learning experience[iv]. This would seem prudent in both developing a learning culture and organisation as well as allowing individuals to maximise their career opportunities in an era soon to de defined by white collar automation. A personalised approach to learning could similarly inform a new public education discourse. Unlike the wait for the can opener, the key technologies for unlocking this potential are already with us and evolving quickly.

[i] http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/09/06/learning-2-0-and-the-future-of-the-disrupted-university/#3cc81d4c2fe9

[ii] https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/david-gelernters-scary-vision-future-higher-ed

[iii] http://www.businessinsider.com/futurist-predicts-online-school-largest-online-company-2016-12

[iv] https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/human-capital-trends/2016/fostering-culture-of-learning-for-employees.html


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