2012 – 2040: 5 Technologies That Will Transform the Way We Learn

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Just recently, I wrote a  blog post which received a lot of attention called 2012 – 2040: Which 5 Technologies Will Shape the Future? that featured five of the entries from Envisioning Technologies’ report Emerging technology for 2012 and beyond. This forecast broadly covers 12 domains for emerging technologies and estimates their release dates mover the coming decades.

More recently however, Envisioning Tech released another forecast titled Envisioning the future of education technology which focuses on the major advances coming in education in the classroom, peer-to-peer learning environments, and virtual from 2012-2040. I have chosen five of the technologies mentioned in the report that I think will make a massive impact to the entire learning experience. Not to in any way underscore the importance of the other technologies listed so I encourage you to check out the the full list whenever you have time.

Enough research has been done to show that we can and will revolutionize the way we learn and teach with the resources available to us; it just takes incentive.

The categories of classroom, peer-to-peer learning environments, and virtual technologies have been separated into six subcategories: Gamification, Opening of Information, Digitized Classrooms, Disintermediation, Tangible Computing, and Virtual/Physical Studios. I chose to explain one technology from nearly every category to try and keep it diverse.

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Some background information from the PDF:

1. Digitized Classrooms: Rather than considering IT a standalone tool or skill, digitization tends to disperse throughout every facet of the classroom.
Examples: tablets, electronic screens, interactive whiteboards, data projectors, 

2. Tangible Computing: Embedding computation to the physical via intelligent objects, the internet of things, and connectivity with a profound impact on learning mechanisms.

Examples: reactive materials, reactive furniture, 3D printers, digitally intermediated field trips

3. Gamification: Billed as an evolution in grading mechanisms, gamification brings instant feedback to acquired knowledge through achievements and points systems.

Examples: student developed apps, educational games, educational programming tools, achievement badges, self-paced learning

4. Virtual/Physical Studios: Bridging the online–offline gap, these future technologies offer a potential future where embodiment is secondary to information access.

Examples: eyewear/HUDs, retinal screens, holography, neuroinfomatics, immersive virtual reality

5. Disintermediation: Undoing the traditional teacher-student model, these technologies offer a scenario where AI handles personalization while teachers focus on teaching

Examples: telepresence, algo-generated lessons, mobile learning platforms, task-assignment algorithms, S2S teaching platforms, assessment algorithms, student-designed learning mechanics

6. Opening of Information: Dissemination of information outside the physical silos of schools and classrooms, offering feedback and assessment to students anywhere.

Examples: portable academic histories, flipped classrooms, inter-school teaching platforms, digitization of books, open courseware, education app stores, online school communities, video lessons, formal communication #backchannels


1. Digitized Classrooms: Classroom Performance Dashboards

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Data projectors, smart boards, and that sort of thing are already implemented in schools. However, what we are really looking for are universal classroom performance dashboards that can track and evaluate a students performance in a way that is easy to share and understand. In the future we are looking at desk-sized screens (and eventually wall-sized screens) in the classroom along with eye-tracking and attention tracking technologies. With one single method of keeping track of the students progress in multiple ways instead of just by marks, it will be easier to assess how each individual is doing and help them along their way.

According to the International Society for Performance Improvement, “Human Performance Technology (HPT) is a systematic approach to improving productivity and competence. It uses a set of methods and procedures (and a strategy for solving problems) for realizing opportunities related to the performance of people. More specifically, it is a process of selection, Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of programs to most cost-effectively influence human behavior and accomplishment. It is a systematic combination of three fundamental processes: performance analysis, cause analysis, and intervention selection, and can be applied to individuals, small groups, and large organizations.”

2. Gamification: Education Games/Self-Paced Learning by 2015: 

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By incorporating aspects from gaming into the learning process we are actually achieving multiple goals. It encourages more active participation and commitment to the learning process as well as providing a system to reward hard work in a visually stimulating way. Students will be more inclined to work on a topic if it is the form of a game and actually stick with it through to completion.

Gamifaction Community says: “Gamification works by making technology more engaging, by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, and by taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. Gamification also helps to make achievements more objective and transparent and lead to a fairer world.”

On the The Atlantic there is an article titled Game-Based Learning Gains Ground in Higher Education which states: “Discussions of game-based learning tend to focus on K-12 classrooms, but educational gaming isn’t just for kids. From simulation-based games, to Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, to Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), to Serious Games that take on real-world social issues (see Purdue University’s Serious Games Center), higher education is on the path to widespread integration of all sorts of games in all sorts of classrooms.”

For more information on Gamifaction, see the infographic.

3. Virtual/Physical Studios: Immersive Virtual Reality by 2040

“Much attention and interest are being given to 3D immersive virtual worlds such as Second Life and Active Worlds and their potential for supporting and enhancing tertiary learning, teaching and pedagogy. Academics from two Australian universities, CharlesSturt University (CSU) and the University of New England (UNE), are workingcurrently on a project to conduct a systematic review and environmental analysis of the use of 3D immersive virtual worlds in higher education in Australia and NewZealand.” – Australasian Journal of Educational Technology Study_on_the_use_of_3D_immersive_virtual_worlds_in_higher_education

A virtual classroom would offer students the opportunity to learn hands-on training for emergency situations without the need for an emergency. Project collaboration would become extremely efficient as the participants could join in from any given location. The VR environment would not only enhance engagement among students, it would also allow for tasks to be undertaken that simply couldn’t be conjured in reality.

For instance, early versions of this concept coming forward appear in the essay Physics Education in Virtual Reality: An Example.

Abstract: “We present an immersive virtual reality (VR) application for physics education. It utilizes a recent physics engine developed for the PC gaming market to simulate physical experiments correctly and accurately. Students are enabled to actively build their own experiments and study them. A variety of tools are provided to analyze forces, mass, paths and other properties of objects before, during and after experiments. Innovative teaching content is presented that exploits the strengths of the 3D virtual environment. Physics Playground serves as an example of how current technologies can be combined to deliver a new quality in physics education.”

We may still be quite far-off of full implementation of this technology but the value has been recognized and virtual learning will undoubtedly hit the mainstream in the coming decades.

4. Disintermediation: Algorithm-generated lessons by 2025

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This field focuses on using algorithms to assign tasks and assess current performance to develop better lesson plans and project models for the future. In this fashion, the teacher is free to help anyone who is struggling along the path and teach them how to follow it versus having to lay down the framework themselves. This helps distance ourselves from using only the teacher-to-student education model which has worked relatively well in the past when information was harder to retrieve on an individual level but now that almost all data is accessible anywhere it’s about time for a change.

From http://www.onlineuniversities.com: Many of the advances under the “Disintermediation” category refer to algorithms as a vehicle for streamlining the tasks associated with teaching and learning. The idea of “Algo-generated lessons” is a natural outcome of the push for big data and data mining [http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/mgi/research/technology_and_innovation/big_data_the_next_frontier_for_innovation]. Through these tools, and some new ones such as eye and attention tracking, all student input can be monitored and quantified and lessons can be generated that exactly match students’ targeted learning levels, prior knowledge, and preferred methods of learning. Early efforts in this field are underway with Knewton and Pearson.

With constant data-collecting throughout projects, the curriculum will continue to improve itself and make it easier for students to learn in a way that will adapt to their generation. The more accommodating the program, the more people it will reach and actually relate to in their own style of learning.

“Software can free teachers to have more human relationships by giving them the time to be guidance counselors and friends to young kids instead of being lecturers who talk at them.  This last possibility is very important—in addition to learning, schools enable critical social development for children through teacher student relationships and interacting with other children—classrooms of peers and teachers provide much more than math lessons.  And by freeing up teachers’ time, technology can lead to increased social development rather than less as many assume.” – (http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/15/teachers-or-algorithms/)

5. Opening of Information: Formal Communication “Backchannels” by 2014

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Opening of Information as a sub-domain began in 2011-2012 with online school communities, video lessons, education app stores, and open courseware. As we progress in this decade, Envisioning Tech predicts we will encounter formal communication “backchannels”. This would make lessons more dynamic and interactive as opposed to simply listening to a seminar you would have the opportunity to participate and ask questions as it is happening. Another advancement mentioned is inter-school teaching platforms which would also incorporate communication “backchannels” among numerous schools all learning the same topic. Connectivity among that many individuals would certainly foster a relationship capable of transcending current boundaries.

In a paper on the University of Colorado’s website it states, “Social media supports “backchannel” communications, allowing for wide-scale interaction that can be collectively resourceful, self-policing, and generative of information that is otherwise hard to obtain.”

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