Are Predictions About College Closures Causing More Schools to Struggle? How Might Alternative Predictions Shape the Future of Higher Education?

Anyone who follows contemporary issues in higher education is familiar with the provocative prediction from Clayton Christiansen (and others like Thomas Frey) that 50% of colleges will close over the 10-15 years. Will it happen? We are already several years into the prediction, so we don’t have to wait too long to find out. Only I’d like to posit three other questions.

First, does it have to happen?

Second, is the college closure prediction causing colleges to struggle and close?

Third, could the definition of “higher education“ be keeping us from recognizing that the more likely future is one of expanded higher education?

Let’s start with the first question. Does this closure prediction have to happen? Thomas Frey, a futurist whose work I follow and admire, is known for saying that, “the future creates the present.” In other words, our visions and musings about the future shape our thinking in the present. By thinking more deeply about a particular vision of the future, we may also be helping to make it a reality.

So, does it have to happen? At this point, I suspect that some version of the college closure prediction is likely to occur. In fact, the spirit of the prediction has already occurred. The number of closures is up, and there are many colleges struggling for survival. Did this have to happen? Yes and No. There could be other data-informed predictions and ways of thinking about the future that could create a very different future for higher education. Competing predictions could have shaped and redirected the public conversation in very different ways. Some colleges would have still closed, as they have always done. For a helpful historical perspective of the wild rise and demise of colleges in the United States, check out A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education by David Labaree.

What about the second question? Is Christiansen’s prediction causing colleges to struggle and close? If Frey’s concept is accurate, that the future creates the present, does that mean that the prediction of the future is indeed helping to create the present circumstances? Or, to be fair, is the prediction of several futurists that many colleges will close soon helping to make that a reality?

Consider this example. There was recent rumor about a possible release of an article in a well known higher education news source that was going to provide a list of predictions about which colleges are likely to close in the next ten years. It turns out that this was not exactly the intent of the article and it has not released at this point, but there are indeed groups that are analyzing colleges based upon publicly available records, and they could release such a list.

What happens next? Suppose there is a college that is struggling but it is doing amazing work to stabilize, turn itself around, and re-imagine itself in ways that could be incredible, inspiring, and valuable to the world. Yet, the current circumstance of that organization is fragile. Then an article releases that predicts this college’s closure within 5-10 years. How do you think that will impact the college’s ability to recruit new students or raise new funds? How do you think it will impact its ability to build strategic partnerships? By publishing such a specific prediction, it didn’t just offer a neutral report. It helped make the prediction a more likely reality. It might have potentially undermined the present turnaround efforts of the institutions on that list. Of course, I live in a nation where there is freedom of press, and I would not want to censor such free exchange. I just want to acknowledge that such writing isn’t just describing. It is helping to create a particular future. It isn’t just informing. It is forming.

The same thing applies with broader or more general predictions about higher education. It would not be fair or accurate to claim that Clayton Christiansen’s prediction about college closures is the cause of so many recent college struggles and even closures, nor would it be accurate. There are many other factors. Yet, it is hard to deny that this prediction changed the contemporary discourse in higher education. Just scan the number of media headlines. If you go to higher education conferences, there is no doubt that you’ve heard countless people quoting Christiansen’s prediction or discussing it between sessions. Talk to groups of college presidents or to chairs of college boards, and you will find that this quote has influenced in will influence their thinking and choices. To publicly predict something is to help make it a more likely reality.

I don’t write this as a criticism. I support the fact that Christiansen wrote this. It sparked good and important conversation. It drew people’s attention to the many forces influencing the future of higher education. It also sparked new thinking and innovations.

Yet, when a well-respected Harvard professor makes such a prediction and it starts to gain traction, that is powerful force. It gets picked up by more media sources and gains the attention of people in places of influence. Just look at how Howard Gardner’s writing shifted an entire generation of educator’s view of intelligence. Ideas (and predictions are ideas) have consequences. They are never neutral. If they are shared and discussed, they influence. They influence policy. They influence the thinking and decision of key influencers in government, higher education leadership, accrediting agencies, think tanks, and more.

So, did the prediction that 50% of all colleges will close in the next 10-15 years help make that a more likely future? There is compelling case that the answer is “yes.” Would that future have occurred even without the prediction being shared? I think the answer that question is also “yes.”

This brings me to the third question. Could our definition of “higher education” be causing us to miss an opportunity to help create a possible future of rapidly expanding higher education?

Followers of my work know that I’ve challenged the college closure prediction, not because I think it is inaccurate, but because I think a more nuanced prediction could help us create a more hopeful future for learning beyond high school. I don’t doubt or question that many colleges will struggle and close, especially those resistant to fundamental changes. We already see that happening, and if they are not able to provide enough value to warrant the attendance of students and the support of donors, perhaps it is time for them to close. Yet, despite all of this, I made the following prediction in 2015:

Will that mean that only half survive? I think that is too simple of a picture. Many will have extreme makeovers, but will emerge with new life. Some will shrink while others expand. And alongside all of that, I am convinced that we will see an entirely new breed of higher education institution… I expect that, by 2030 [or maybe 2035], we might have two to three times as many higher education institutions as we have today, even as there will be more alternatives to the traditional college routes for people. Get ready for the higher education “startup” revolution. They might not all be higher education institutions as we’ve thought of them in the past, but they will be institutions [or communities] that provide education beyond the secondary level.

https://etale.org/main/2015/07/27/higher-education-in-2030-get-ready-for-the-highered-startup-revolution/

In fact, while many media sources are quick to join in helping to amplify the impact of the prediction about college closures, I continue to contend that we are missing the higher education revolution underway. People are drawn to the headlines of college closures and colleges on probation with their accreditors (I’m helping lead one of those colleges right now, and the future is admittedly unclear), and those make for provocative headlines. Yet, one need not look further than Clayton Christiansen’s own writing about how disruptive innovation works to know that the true disruptions are often missed, even ignored in early stages. Not only are they missed and ignored by the established institutions, they are also often missed by the media and larger system. That is happening today.

There is a rapid democratization of learning community creation, formation, and cultivation at work today. I’ve sometimes referred to this as “outsider higher education” because it resembles the development of outsider art. Outsider artists often didn’t (and don’t) even consider themselves artists. Yet, over time, outsider art became a part of the larger ecosystem. This is happening all over the place, especially in the digital landscape. Individual instances have an ebb and flow of media attention and discussion in higher education communities, but people rarely recognize how these individual instances represent a larger pattern and movement that is changing the nature of learning and education. Sometimes these individual instances resemble traditional higher education communities. Other times they don’t, and they don’t bother with such things as grades, transcripts, degrees, any many other characteristics that are part of our image of higher education.

As one who studies past, present, and future trends in education; I continue to be amazed at how little many of us in higher education know about our own history, and how short that history is when it comes to aspects of college or higher education experience. When we step back and look at the history of higher education, we see that change is the norm, sometimes drastic change.

The problem is that these new and emerging higher education communities look so different from what we think of as college that we don’t think to include them in our conversations about the future of the ecosystem. Yet, if we think of them in terms of the goals that they help people achieve (beyond earning a degree), there is a strong case to be made that they are indeed a part of the broader notion of higher education.

When I predict that we will have two to three times the number of higher education communities, I am not suggesting that these will be formal or regionally accredited colleges. Rather, I am suggesting that they will be communities that, at their essence, expand and extend people’s learning beyond the secondary level. If we are willing to broaden or perspective, we soon begin to see that this is a revolution that has been underway for fifty years, and it is growing exponentially.

So, while we already have predictions about college closures, I expect that the far more interesting and promising predictions relate to what forms of higher education will persist. By only focusing upon the college closure predictions, we risk contributing to a future where there are a smaller number of dominant institutions that lack the variety and diversity that exists today. If we instead broaden our definition of higher education and focus upon predictions of a rich, vibrant, diverse, and highly valued ecosystem; we have a much better chance of helping make that future a present reality.

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Most People in Education are Just Looking for Faster Horses, But the Automobile is Coming

Note: If you like what you read, you can go here for the MoonshotEdu podcast episode that addresses this topic.

Remember the famous quote often attributed to Henry Ford (although we don’t know if he actually said it), “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Most people in education are looking for faster horses. It is too challenging, troubling, or beyond people’s sense of what is possible to really imagine a completely different way in which education happens in the world. That doesn’t mean, however, that the educational equivalent of the automobile is not on its way. I am confident that it is very much on its way. It might even arrive earlier than even the futurists expect. Consider the following prediction.

According to this article in the Business Insider, the futurist Thomas Frey predicts that the largest Internet company in 2030 will be an online school. Yet, when you look more closely at his prediction, it is not that the largest company will be an online school, but that it will be an education-based company. I am not an economist and lack the business acumen to agree or disagree with his assessment of “the largest.” I will, however, comment on the more general prediction that there will be a single, massive Internet-based education company in 2030 that is a leading voice and holds a dominant position in the education space.

This is more than possible. He is probably right. For Frey, this relates to the growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning, two trends that are clearly going to play increasingly larger roles in education this year and well into the future. Frey paints a picture of a future where robots take adaptive, individualized, and personalized learning to a new level; taking over the facilitation of massive open online courses and delivering better learning outcome results than teachers of the human sort. These robots will master the science behind the age-old principle of good teaching, “know your learners.” By mining rich and ongoing data about each learner, these robot teachers will be able to adjust the time, pace, pathway, and experience of learning to optimize outcomes, allowing students to master concepts and content in a fraction of the time that it takes today. That is how Frey sees it. These robots might not replace most teachers, but such a vision suggests that they will, at minimum, teach alongside and supplement what teachers do.

I love this prediction. It is informed, provocative, rooted in changes that are already well underway in several sectors, and it serves as a great discussion starter and source of reflection for those of us in education. It forces us to go beyond the faster horse mentality. Every technological element that Frey describes already exists and there are multiple education (or non-education) companies investing in educational applications of them. Some of these technologies are already deeply embedded in various educational systems and applications. Yet, even Frey tempers his prediction by noting that these will likely just be supplements to human teachers.

We are largely just looking for better horses in most education reform and quality improvements. We talk about how to improve retention rates in school instead of diving right into how we can re-imagine education where concepts like retention rates become irrelevant. We talk about how to get as many people as possible to earn a college degree instead of talking seriously about how we can create an model where we have the most informed and educated population in the history of the world. We talk about GPA as a good predictor of school performance thus focusing upon how to increase GPA instead of asking whether the entire grading system itself is helping or hindering what we do in education.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking faster horses in education, but that will eventually reach a limit. Horses can only go so fast. Switching from faster horses to faster humans for a second, it is certainly true that we have succeeded in creating a generation of faster humans. The 4-minute-mile barrier was broken, but there is going to be a limit when we are talking about human legs and anatomy, at least until we change the rules of the race, allow new technologies, or something else more drastic than most people might be thinking. Humans can go much faster than a 4-minute-mile. Just put them in a jet-propelled car that goes over 700 miles per hour.

There are limits to the current models of education. Tackling some of the priorities that people seem to have about learning and education in the 21st and 22nd centuries calls for automobile-level changes. We might not like Frey’s predictions. We might have moral concerns. We might want to fight for our fondness of the current system. We might want to protect our own jobs and how we do them. Yet, there are plenty of people in the world who don’t have those inhibitions and they will be working to move from faster horses to educational automobiles. I have no reason to doubt that more people will eventually embrace the innovations that come from the efforts of such people.

Frey might not have it right in terms of the specifics. Yet, I suspect that he does have it right on at least a few.

  • Many education transformations will happen in organizations not bound by current educational policies. That means companies like MOOC-providers who don’t have to worry about the regulations and restrictions of K-12 and higher education institutions. This can just. I just don’t know if it will.
  • Many education transformations will happen in organizations not dominated by faster horse people. Again, that probably means different types of organizations than what we typically think of as schools. This too can change. I just don’t know if it will.
  • Technologies attached to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and new forms of adaptive learning will play a key role in these educational transformations.

Note: If you like what you read, you can go here for the MoonshotEdu podcast episode that addresses this topic.

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How Preferred and Trusted Digital Platforms Will Reshape Education

Anyone denying the shift toward preferred and trusted digital platforms might want to look at the numbers as seen here, and we are wise to consider the fact that this has implications for education as well.

Digital platforms are here and they are reshaping market share across industries. They are reshaping personal habits. They are reshaping how families and communities function. This is not new. We’ve been living in and experiencing these changes for decades, but the statistics above give us a glimpse into what can happen in education as well.

I realize this provokes mixed reactions. Some might not like it. Others might not want it to happen. Still others might be deeply concerned about it. Even others remain skeptics. I’ve experienced all of those at one point our another. However, we are in denial in if we think this shift is not reshaping education as well.

Others will look at the statistics above and point out that, while Amazon grew in shares, it is not the most profitable. In fact, it didn’t even turn a profit until 2016. Yet, I will point out that it did impact both market share and profit for some of the others in the chart as well as countless others. It actually generated more profit for storefronts who found a powerful platform in Amazon. It established its market influence. In addition, regardless of profits at the moment, it is reshaping the modern retail marketplace in ways that are noteworthy.

This trusted platform / storefront element is one of the more profitable parts of the Amazon enterprise. I wrote about this recently in an article entitled, “A Likely Storefront Future of Continuing Education.” I tried to stay modest in my speculations in the article, but the truth of the matter is that an Amazon approach to education at large is likely to emerge. We are not sure who or which organizations will take the lead, but it can and likely will happen. It may be underway and I just haven’t noticed the emerging dominance of certain platforms.

By the way, this doesn’t mean the end of face-to-face education anymore than Amazon’s success meant the need of all face-to-face storefronts, but it will have an impact, one that is potentially larger but certainly different from what most people expect. This is not a doomsday article for traditional education. It is a recognition that education and learning as we know it will be transformed by the trusted and extended services platform model.

This is about building a preferred and trusted platform. I stopped by a Best Buy recently in search of a last-minute addition to Christmas presents. When I asked about a niche product, you can probably guess what the person told me at the store. We don’t have that in this store, but you can go to our website and order it. The people at the store are constantly reinforcing that the place to really get what you want is online, and it was a fragmented customer experience. You are just taking your chances if you go to the store. My wife had a related experience when she went online to order something from Walmart that she could pick up in the store. When she arrived, they didn’t have it, even though the website indicated that all she had to do was go to the store to pick it up.

Amazon went a different direction. Order it from us (or one of our partners) and we will tell you when it will arrive. Before you order it, check out our community of customer reviews, compare prices across our products and those of other vendors who we welcome in our storefront, choose when and how you want it shipped…

Some K-12 and higher education leaders might look at that last number in the opening image and note that the answer is that we need to add an online element. Yet, while that might be important, this is not just about going online. Each of the companies in the list are online. It is just that Amazon, an almost entirely online storefront, had a 1910% growth while all but Walmart saw significant declines, and Amazon made itself a one-stop shop and destination point that extends from consumer goods to entertainment, photo storage to books in every modern format, cloud servers and storage to tracking digital subscriptions. There is something more significant at play here, and that something has enormous implications for education also. It is about the trusted and one-stop platform. People seem to like and want that.

In education, consider the examples of Coursera and Edx as MOOC providers. Both of these went the route of partnering with large, flagship, or elite institutions. You don’t find many small or niche higher education institutions even welcomed on their platform. Contrast that with Amazon who partners with even the smallest niche boutiques who can meet their standards, follow their policies, and deliver quality products on time. Notice the community built around Amazon that extends across providers and services, anticipating questions and needs, and then expanding the platform to address them.

The future is unclear but the impact is apparent to anyone who will take the took to study the trends. Some of the MOOC providers might pivot and try this. LinkedIn seems to be trying to do it. Blackboard is trying to do it through a B2B strategy as a provider of ever-expanding services for educational institutions, but it still does not prove to be a true and easy-to-work-with partner for many vendors (at least not from several direct personal experiences on that front). Plenty of others opted for more niche approaches that will likely be sustaining over the upcoming years. Those who are growing online are often doing so with incredibly narrow ways of thinking about education or training. Yet, I’m still waiting for those two or three preferred and trusted platforms to emerge. Perhaps they are already here and will show themselves as such. Maybe they will be an expanded aspects of an existing and widely trusted and used social platform. They could come from new startups. There is even a chance that they will come from the non-profit education space through a single leader or a strong consortium (but I’m skeptical at the moment). This might take a few years. This might take a decade or more. Regardless, it will happen.

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A Likely Storefront Future for Continuing Education

Perhaps you’ve seen the image being shared across social media that says the following:

Uber – The world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles.

Facebook – The world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.

Alibaba – The most valuable retailer, has no inventory.

Airbnb – The world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.

Is this possible in education as well? We already have Coursera, EdX, P2PU, Udemy, and countless other collections of courses and learning experiences across learning organizations. We’ve also had people like David Schejbal of the University of Wisconsin Extension talking and writing about a storefront of higher education courses or experiences across organizations. Yet, all of these have limitations that likely keep them from gaining the sort of widespread traction that we see with the examples like Uber and Alibaba. Consider the following three.

Fragmentation

Learning experiences are easily fragmented. For those who are seeking a full degree or more cohesive course of study, the current educational equivalents of a shared storefront tend to fall short. Universities, for example, often have their own nuances and ways of organizing learning. Getting a degree in computer science at one school is not necessarily the same as earning it at another place. How content and objectives are broken up varies from school to school. There are philosophical differences. There are differences based on the typical student. There are differences based upon signature emphases.

These are not problems if you are using Alibaba or Amazon, but they are issues when it comes to learning experiences. It is fine for a hobbyist. It even works for the minority of people who have become skilled at curating and designing their own learning experiences through disparate sources, not unlike that junkyard sculptor who can take seemingly unrelated pieces and turn them into a true piece of art. Yet, for better or worse, most learners are looking for something that is more cohesive and prepackaged. I spend quite a bit of time promoting the importance of equipping people to have that mindset and propensity for self-organizing, curating and self-directing; but a candid view of the education landscape today shows that most people are looking for some help curating and coordinating their learning experiences, even if they want a good measure of autonomy as well.

Lack of Clarity About What Works

When it comes to education, the idea of “what works” is a challenging one. That is because audience and context play such important roles. What works with struggling learners in one context might flop with advanced learners in another context. What works with one age group in a rural Midwest context might not work with a group of recent immigrants living on the Texas border. Yet, we do have some good research in education about what tends to work better than other things. Based upon philosophy and this sort of “what works” research, some schools and platforms establish guidelines, expectations, policies and the like to keep up a certain standard based on the body of research identified. This can inhibit innovation, result in methods that don’t work for some people, but it can also build some consistency and cohesiveness. Yet, the discourse and focus on these matters in the current education storefronts (even within a program at a single school) is in its infancy.

By pointing this out, please note that I am not lobbying for a long list of state or federal policies related to the matter, nor do I see wisdom in a massive consortium that becomes a restrictive regulatory unit. That could too easily turn into misguided regulations that restrict access and opportunity, or that unexpectedly and unnecessarily harms diverse learners. I’m just noting that our discourse needs to deepen if someone is going to successfully apply the Uber, Facebook or Airbnb model to education.

Going Too Many Directions

This third limitation is the one that will eventually turn into a lever and lead to thriving examples of the storefront model in education. Right now many of these storefront-esque education efforts are too broad. This is more successful when a group focuses upon a given area of education, one where there is already a generally agreed upon pedagogy and where the differences from one school to the next are minimal. This is happening. Universities are partnering for courses that can be used toward a shared program. Some state-wide and broader efforts have already created storefronts of courses that can be used across programs. There are built-in articulation agreements that allow for this to happen. As such, at least on a conceptual level, we have everything that we need to make this happen.

Now all we need is a coalition of the willing.  There are accreditation and regulatory issues to work out. There are financial models to be worked out among participating educational providers. Yet, people are working on this and they will continue to do so.

There are countless pitfalls as different people seek to create this sort of future, and some of them are unrecognizable or nearly unavoidable. There will be new winners and new losers. There will be problems of access and opportunity resolved by this while creating new ones. Nonetheless, I continue to see at least a few possible futures where this can further democratize education.

Eight Challenges for the Future of Education, Credentials and Recognition

The 2016 EPIC conference just ended last week, and I walked away with:

  • forty pages of notes,
  • new friends and colleagues,
  • and swirling thoughts about the role and possibility of open recognition systems.

I might even have a new book project coming out of this experience, but I’ll share more about that later.

It was an honor to be one of the early keynotes for the event. I was given the topic of “the future of education,” so I worked from that to come up with the title, “Exploring Futures of Credentials & Education: A Case for Missional Innovation.” Drawing from some of my work on innovation in education, I juxtaposed a series of sometimes competing concepts for our consideration.

When I write and talk about the future, I don’t do it as the sort of futurist who claims to be able to predict what will happen with certainty. Instead, I look at past trends, highlight potential futures, and give those of us in the present opportunity to consider how each of us will contribute to creating one of those futures.

What is clear to me is what Blaschke and Hase wrote in 2016, that “We are in an age of knowledge and skill emancipation” (p. 25). The Internet and way in which it helped us imagine the possibly for life and learning in a connected age, frees and extends knowledge, learning, skill acquisition and much more. This doesn’t make existing learning organizations obsolete, but it does challenge their claim to have a “corner on the education market.”

Instead, and as I’ve written about before, we are at a time in which there are multiple roads that one might travel on a learning journey. There is still the stable degree drive, completing a series of courses and requirements at a formal school, leaving with a valued credential, and hopefully some learning as well. Yet, there is also continuing education court, a road that is widening as more organizations and groups are creating free, inexpensive, open or alternative ways of learning (as evidenced by the popular example of the emerging coding bootcamps, MOOCs, open education resources, and more). Along with that, thanks to the digital world, we have self-directed street. The person with competence and confidence to learn independently has ample resources to do so. Now we are also seeing greater interest in and effort to connect these three roads, allowing one’s learning journey to shift from one road to the next. Yet, we’ve not historically had ways to recognize the learning that happens across these three streets. Our recognition and credentials remain stuck to one of the streets in most case. All of this begins to change as we embrace the power and possibility of open badges and, more broadly, strategies for open recognition.

And so, in such a context, we have some decisions to make. There are tensions that we are wise to consider, eight of which I shared in my keynote, and I will briefly revisit here. I don’t contend that one must win or defeat the other. Sometimes, even often, the tension is good. Paradox and tension is something to be understood, not always something to be eradicated. Of course, as you will see in my forthcoming comments, I do see wisdom in giving greater emphasis to one over the other in a given time and context.

Pathways Versus Gateways

Gateways are about checks, balances, control, accountability, and quality. They are part of what formal learning organizations promise to the public. If a University issues a medical degree to a person who is completely unqualified to practice medicine, then that credential and the issuing entity will eventually lose the trust of the public. It will cease to benefit anyone. This is the perspective that defends the importance of gateways in the modern education ecosystem. At the same time, gateways are not always just about this public trust. Sometimes policies, rules, and systems become gateways that limit or restrict people who are indeed qualified. We create rules that restrict and inhibit. We even take pride in this, noting that we are weeding out the unqualified. Yet, there is no question that there are usually multiple pathways to learning something or achieving mastery in a given domain. The question is whether we are willing to help create a modern learning ecosystem where we can recognize learning from multiple pathways, maintaining a commitment to a public trust without unnecessarily restricting the aspiring learner.

Protecting Corporate, Educational and Government Control Versus Protecting Public Interest and Individual Rights

Ideally, corporations, educational institutions and government agencies are protecting the public interest and individual rights. Yet, we would be naive to assume that this is always the case. In fact, the nature of organizational operations is that they sometimes go against such ends unintentionally. Or, there are personal and organizational interests that compete with other interests for people outside of those organizations. It is no surprise that these formal organizations and the people within them will often have self-preservation as one among other priorities.

Yet, some of the potential challenges and opportunities of this age, especially when it comes to open learning and open recognition, will clash with the interest of these organizations and institutions. If corporate interest dominates, there is a good chance that the next generation of open badges will be about securing financial benefits for these corporate stakeholders. If educational institution’s interest dominate, then there is a good chance that these institutions will be set up and defended as the sole or preferred means by which learning is properly recognized, even though there are countless individuals whose access and opportunity may be diminished by such an effort. If government control dominates, there are likely to be policies that restrict promising innovations in open learning and open recognition, not intentionally, but simply because these entities have narrower priorities and measures by which they are making their decisions. As an example, consider the incredible restrictions to innovation in the modern United States higher education system because of policies intended to protect the government’s massive investment in the financial aid program.

A balance, in my view, is not acceptable. This tension should lean toward public interest and individual rights while acknowledging the needs and interest of these organizations. Yet, this calls for a visionary and missional approach to the matter. We must collectively remain committed to the larger view and greater purpose, namely increased access and opportunity.

Competency as Static Versus Competency as Dynamic

When it comes to both credentials and recognition, this is an interesting contrast. When you graduate with a degree, and many perceive that degree as evidence of your competence in a given area, you maintain that degree for life, even if your competence diminishes or disappears altogether. You can put it on a resume. You can use it to open doors of opportunity. Yet, not all credentials or forms of recognition work that way. Some credentials expire or require ongoing verification that you do indeed have the knowledge and skills that you once had.

We are working from a flawed view of learning if we think that competency is something that you earn and own for life as if it were a tangible object. Competency grows and shrinks. It strengthens and weakens. This is an important tension for us to remember as we think about the role of recognition and credentials today.

Summative Credentialing Versus Formative Credentialing

We don’t typically use the terms “formative” and “summative” in reference to credentialing, but I contend that they allow us to look at recognition and credentials in important ways. As I so often say, formative is the check up at the doctor, and summative is the autopsy. The former is about checks and progress while the latter is about a final judgement or assessment. Yet, who is to say that credentials and recognition must always be summative? As with the static versus dynamic contrast, we can also begin to think about what it would look like to create and use forms of recognition and credentials that represent where you are at the moment, but adapting and changing as you grow and develop. Innovations around learning analytics and big data have potential to help us bring such musings into reality.

Credentialism Versus Matchmaking

Credentialsim is credentials at their worst. It is when credentials are used to restrict access and opportunity, intentionally or unintentionally. A credential is required for access to some opportunity in society when, in actuality, it may not be necessary. We are wise to remain vigilant in avoiding this persistent risk with our use of credentials. Yet, and again drawing from the developments around learning analytics and big data, we may be entering a future where credentialism can be reduced as more of a matchmaking understanding can gain traction.

Imagine an online reputation system that includes a collection of credentials and various forms of recognition (including endorsement and artifacts that provide evidence of your accomplishments and expertise). Now imagine systems that can mine that data, mine the data of other people and organizations, and help you connect with those people and organizations that might be a good fit. Such an innovation could transform the way that we think about talent searches and connecting with people and groups. It certainly has its risks and limitations too, but I offer this as a possible future, one that could also increase access and opportunity while diminishing credentialism.

Portfolio as a Collection of Credentials & Artifacts Versus Portfolio as a Dynamic Personal Narrative

When I learn about how learning organizations today are using portfolios, they are quite often attached to standards in a program. Or, they might be used as a place for personal reflection about one’s learning. Yet, there is that other outward facing side of portfolios, using them to show your work to the world and hopefully connecting with people and organizations. Imagine a portfolio system where your lifelong and lifewide learning story is being told and updated persistently. Tied to the matchmaking idea that I just explained, this would establish rich data by which we can do some impressive matchmaking, both technologically and serendipitously.

Standardize or Personalize

I used the well-known cartoon to point out this tension. There is a lineup of animals. There is a bird, monkey, penguin, elephant, goldfish, seal, and a dog. Then there is a man sitting behind a desk saying, “For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: please climb that tree.” The question is whether the future of learning and recognition will reflect or challenge that cartoon. Standardization plays an important role in society and certain contexts, but it is not without its limitations. Personalization is the same. Yet, this is where the vision and mission comes into play. What drives the extent to which we go toward one or the other has to do with how we answer the question about what is best for the public interest and individual rights? Our answers will differ, but any promising future of education, credentials, and recognition will remember these tensions.

Learner as Pupil/Patient/Customer Versus Learning as Co-creator

As I explain in my book, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, Kathryn Church is an inspiration to me. She was a mental health professional who found herself a patient in a mental health facility. She had the truly unique perspective of looking at the experience through both of these lenses and published an incredible piece of scholarship about it called Forbidden Narratives: Critical Autobiography as Social Science. Her work challenged the clean separation of researcher and subject as she was both.

In a similar way, we are in an era that has growing interest in student voice and student agency as a way of nurturing voice and agency throughout life. We see significant attention to movements like user-centered design and empathetic design, approaches that are rooted in a deep understanding of the users. Alongside both of these, we know that collaboration is an increasingly critical skill in the 21st century landscape. These are finding their way into education as well, challenging us to consider how we might adjust from education as something done to students to education as something that is done with students. This extends from the learning to the credentials, recognition and representation of that learning.

As I mentioned in my keynote, technology and innovation always brings with it affordances and limitations, benefits and downsides. All of these potential futures of education and recognition are the same. There will always be winners and losers, different ones depending upon the context and technology. Yet, if we are committed to creating a learning and recognition ecosystem that increases access and opportunity, I contend that these are the types of considerations that warrant our time and attention.

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Five Possibilities for the Future of Online Learning

Where is the future of online learning? Which providers will grow and which will diminish? In a regulated industry like education, it is often hard to predict. Yet, there are certain potentials futures that are far more likely than others. As I review the landscape and the developments over the last twenty years, I suspect that there are four especially strong potential futures. There may well be a blend of these four, but each represents a strong trend that is likely to traction.

Also, before I get started, I should explain that referencing these five is not necessarily a claim that all other forms of online learning will cease to exist in the future. Rather, I’m referring to futures where certain forms dominate over others. This is a matter of emphasis more than existence. You might even find it helpful to think in terms of market share. With that important caveat, here are for strong potential futures for online learning.

Regional Influencers

One possibility that seems to have gained significant attention in the last few years is the idea of the online learning regional influencer. In contrast to the national and international brands in online learning, many regional non-profit state Universities and private higher education institutions have captured market share. People resonate with and trust these schools, and that is extending to online learning. These may be online programs of hundreds or thousands, but they are often not the massive populations that we see with some of the past online programs. Some of these schools are also marketing their online programs nationally and internationally, but they get the majority of students in their own backyard and through a robust alumni network that extends beyond the region.

This is a promising future because regional online programs can find far less expensive ways to recruit students. They don’t necessarily need to spend the countless millions on digital campaigns across the country to get traction. More people already know them in the region, so a small but focused mixed channel marketing effort can be all that is needed to connect degree seeking student with their online programs.

A Few Massive Providers

At the same time, there are some for-profit and non-profit providers who might have started with a regional focus, but they have definitely extended their influence nationally and internationally. These programs have awareness, large marketing budgets, impressive and sizable teams (on the recruitment/marketing and academic side), and they are striving to set the bar for innovative programming.

There is the possibility that these will continue to grow and gain market share, pushing out many of the others who dabble with online learning. This could happen with some of the known and established online Universities today. It could also happen with elite Universities that choose to leverage their brand to establish a low-cost portfolio of online programs. While distinguishing these programs from their face-to-face counterparts, these schools could potentially pass by existing groups, using their longstanding brand reputation to become online program providers of choice. Granted that such schools establish cutting edge research to inform their design and practice, this would be a powerful force in the online space, allowing them to recruit large numbers with a limited marketing budget, simply because of the strong brand awareness.

Storefront & Partnerships

Then we have the large MOOC providers like Coursera and EdX. While they are not moving quickly into offering degree programs, the way in which they are set up could be preparing them to eventually becoming providers for small and massive online courses and programs. Universities could partner to offer courses that contribute to a shared degree, or one could take individual courses with a single University.

The MOOC providers have a compelling storefront model that has interesting possibilities. Instead of people simply conducting broad searches to find the right online degree, imagine a future where there are a few massive storefronts. Now imagine corporate and other partners playing some sort of role in this, providing pathways to certain jobs, aligning professional programs more closely with the needs of specific employers, and much more.

This approach is a strong possibility amid the unbundling experiments that we are seeing in education. Challenges with accreditation and inconsistency across organizations prevents a more such shared programs today, not to mention competitive element. Yet, if a storefront provider were to establish some sort of cross-organization standard, it is not hard to imagine a situation where there is greater transferability from one organization to the next. We could see programs created out of courses or even smaller curricular units from a few or even a dozen organizations. This future downplays the differentiation and distinctions from one organization to the next. It is a stronger possibility in ares of study where there is already a great deal of standardization due to external regulatory bodies. For example, this could work in a healthcare field where you have pretty much the same outcomes and courses regardless of where you study.

This future requires a type of partnership that is less common today in the degree-seeking world, but if an organization is successful in creating a well-known storefront, we could see a future of online learning that is not unlike the grocery store experience, only with courses and degrees. This leads me to a distinct but related idea, the competitive marketplace approach.

Competitive Marketplace

Another potential future is the Amazon model of online higher education. Imagine a future where you could go to a marketplace not unlike Amazon.com to search for online programs. We certainly see sites that collect and present many online options today, but those are largely simple sites with inquiry forms. These companies make money by charging schools to advertise their programs on the site. It is a basic business model.

We’ve not yet seen the growth of more advanced versions of this concept in education, truly bringing to reality a marketplace approach to searching for degree and non-degree training. Yet, there are some influential voices and organizations interested in creating something like this. It could begin with a regional partnership among 5-10 large state Universities, for example. Unlike the last example, where it might include more collaboration among course providers, this is mainly a storefront. It certainly could include collaboration, but it doesn’t need to. People can shop for courses and degrees across organizations.

The Free & Open Online University

We see open universities outside of the United States, but there are emerging financial innovations and political moves that may well drive a new type of online degree program, namely a free and open one. This could be government funded, but there are other possibilities for funding a completely or almost free online degree provider. Given the growth of the open learning movement combined with some political interests pushing for tuition-free college, this type of massive and online degree option has a possibility of coming into existing in the next decade.

Again, futures in education are influenced by a myriad of factors, and regulatory changes make it a challenge to see too far ahead. Yet, these four possible futures are rooted in some clear, persistent, and growing trends in the online learning space. I am confident that we will see one or more of them gain significant traction in the upcoming decade and beyond.

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The Future of Education: Ignore, Prepare, Predict, or Create?

When it comes to thinking about the future of education, there are four basic approaches. Some ignore thoughts about the future, arguing that it is out of reach and that there is plenty to focus on in the present. Others take the approach of preparing for the future. While it might be unknown, we can prepare ourselves by being agile, alert, responsive to subtle and significant changes and trends, and by doing what it takes to position yourself for the unknown. Then there are those who work to predict the future. While this is not a certain science, there are ways to notice trends and develop a nuanced ability to track that which is likely to stick and shape the future of education. Yet, there are those who go beyond all of these, aspiring to create the future.

Of course, there is no rule against embracing more than one of these, In fact, I suggest that there is much wisdom in takings lessons from all four emphases. Let’s look at them more closely.

Ignore

Maybe “ignore” is not the right word, but there is something to be said for not obsessing about the future. There are instances where people are so worried about or focused on what might happen in the future, that it prevents them from investing in the present. In that sense, there is a time to set aside our thinking about the future, instead dealing with the important tasks of today. By investing in creating something great today, we might be better preparing ourselves for the future anyway. As Mother Theresa is quoted as saying, ““Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” There is plenty of work in the present. Yet, there is a limit to this. Completely ignoring signs of change in the near future can be detrimental.

Prepare

The “prepare” camp is sometimes skeptical that you can actually predict the future. At the same time, those in this camp also see it as unwise to ignore the future. Instead, the goal is to figure out how to best prepare for it. In fact, this sort of mindset is arguably essential in education. We are preparing people for a future that doesn’t yet exist. As such, we have to find ways to prepare for the unknown. As Malcolm X wrote, ““Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Or, FDR said it this way, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

Predict

As I wrote in a recent article, the future might seem to sneak up on us in unexpected ways, but it rarely happens in an instant. With attention and study, we can notice the signs of change. A good place to start is with the past. The past might not repeat itself, but studying the past can give us a better sense of the changes to come, which is the spirit of what Marquis of Halifax meant when he wrote, “The best qualification of a prophet is to have a good memory.” In addition, there is ample wisdom in this quote from an unknown source, “A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organized.” If we can see patterns in what seems like randomness to others, we can sometimes make sense of it.

Create

Others realize that we all play a role in creating the future. Abraham Lincoln allegedly said, ““The best way to predict your future is to create it.” It isn’t just some distant, disconnected and abstract thing. Each of us has a role in making it happen. Even small actions can have a ripple effect on future lives, organizations, communities and more. I’m especially fond of how Buckminster Fuller put it when he wrote, ““You never change things by fighting the existing reality.To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The models, metaphors, and ideas that we create or promote help shape the future. Having been involved with tracking trends in education for over twenty years, I am confident that we can do this to a degree that is helpful, but we must also do it with a healthy dose of both humility and skepticism of our own predictions. That is why I appreciate the wisdom in Stephen Hawkings way of thinking about the topic, “One can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance.”

A Combined View

Yet, instead of sticking with any one of these, I am both an idealist and a realist. I choose to learn from each of these approaches, seeing them as complementary more than competitive or discrete approaches. There are times when it is best to focus on the present and not let thoughts of the future distract us. Then there is wisdom in doing what we can to prepare ourselves for the future, even if it is unknown. At the same time, we can do the hard work of studying the past and present trends so that we are more informed about possible futures. Yet, we don’t have to be fatalistic about it. We have a role to play in shaping what is to come, and recognizing this fact is an important starting point.

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Education Lessons from Alvin Toffler

Less than a year before I was born, Alvin Toffler who recently passed away, published a book that would later inspire me think more deeply about the impact of change in society. In this book, Toffler popularized the term “future shock”, the disorienting result of living in times of rapid and constant change. This first book extended to two more, The Third Wave, and Power Shift. Through these books and other efforts, Toffler established himself as one of the most known and influential futurists of the last fifty years. His ideas inspired a generation of futurists, not to mention a growing interest in trying to make informed predictions about the future impact of emerging cultural and technological trends in the world.

Among other things, Toffler popularized and introduced many to the concept of information overload, a theme that certainly gained traction even more as the Internet emerged. Amid that development, many people found it easier to understanding the implications of trends that Toffler spotted decades before the expansion of our contemporary digital world. In fact, people today will use the phrase without realizing Toffler’s role in shaping its usage.

Toffler saw and wrote about many future innovations. These ranged from cloning to cable television, the Internet to mobile devices and communication; as well and many sociological, psychological and economic implications of these and other developments. While he certainly did not invent such things, his writing sparked curiosities that influenced what came to be. After all, when you have as large of a forum as Toffler developed, your predictions quickly blend into a shaping of the future. In fact, he knew this well and stated as much when he wrote, “Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it…to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.”

Toffler on Education

Already in Future Shock, Toffler developed a growing perspective on the future of education, partly represented in a widely used quote from the text, “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to unlearn.” Yet, I sometimes lament that this quote is truncated from the surrounding sentences in the text which provide an even richer set of ideals and context.

By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education. Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization phrases it simply: ‘The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.’

This grew out of his larger observations about the rate of of change. If the future will perpetually arrive prematurely, as Toffler noted, this has massive implications for life, work and education. The knowledge and skill necessary for a given job will change more rapidly resulting in the need to both learn and relearn. This also means more shifts from one job to another as certain jobs become obsolete or at least in lesser demand. In such a context, it is no longer about building a set of skills that will serve you well for a lifetime as much as developing the capacities to adapt, learn, unlearn, and be the the designers of your own learning goals and pathways.

The Affect and the Future

Yet, some might miss that Toffler also tempered this with the need for people who have more than head knowledge and skills. The world of the future, as Toffler saw it, needs compassionate people as well. “Society needs people who…know how to be compassionate and honest…Society needs all kinds of skills that are not just cognitive; they’re emotional, they’re affectional. You can’t run the society on data and computers alone.”

Shaping the Future as a Moral Responsibility

Toffler was far from a luddite. While he wrote about the dark side of the future, his writings indicated a conviction that we can help shape the future by our words and actions. He further challenged readers to neither put their heads in the sand nor to completely resist change. In fact, he saw change and the emerging future as an opportunity for us to bring about more favorable conditions in our communities and world. At the end of his book, The Third Wave, he said it this way on page 443: “The responsibility for change…lies within us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical.” Similarly, he warned that our accomplishments of the past are no guarantee of similar outcomes in the future, represented in another widely shared quote, “The first rule of survival is clear: Nothing is more dangerous than yesterday’s success.”

Multiple Futures

I do not agree with many of Tofflers political and ideological positions, but his work unquestionably influenced my thinking and provided me with insight into the role of future studies in education. Yet, among all his ideas and words, there is a single quote that continues to inspire my work and writing. In fact, this quote is partly behind a core part of my vision for the future of education, namely the idea that there is not one future but many, that the most humane and compelling future of education is a vision of multiple futures. On p. 463 of Future Shock, he wrote: “We need a multiplicity of visions, dreams and prophecies – images of potential tomorrows.” In education, I expand this to say that we do not just need multiple visions and dreams. We need for multiple visions and dreams to become a reality.

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Can Badges Help Education (and Society) Recover from Credentialism?

I continue to wonder if open badges can help education and society recover from credentialism. When I first started writing about badges, it was because I saw possible futures where open badges could de-monopolize current credential issuing organizations. I saw the potential to increase access and opportunity for self-directed learners, those who took alternative learning pathways, and those who sought to design a personal learning pathway that mixed learning experiences across contexts and organizations. I saw it as a way to force the hand of more formal learning organizations to invest in the quality of their communities, learning experiences and their benefit to learners (not just employers). I looked at the education landscape and lamented instances where education institutions expected to keep their doors open by trusting that people would come to them with the promise of a quick-to-degree route or the hope of some sacred piece of paper that only these institutions had authorization to dispense.

With the growth of open badges as I saw it, these organizations could no longer depend upon people enduring archaic, subpar, and disempowering practices simply because the institution held the keys to the credential that the learner must have for her/his desired future. This was and is not prompted by a personal desire to hurt formal education. I wanted to help it find its way back to what has always been best about higher education; being a rich, immersive, intellectual, curious, transformational learning community and not a diploma-issuing factory. The best institutions today get that, but many do not believe it enough to have a financial model built around such a vision.

I saw badges as a means of helping to create a future where the increased percentage of college graduates was modest but the education “level” of communities was, nonetheless, greater than past eras. I looked to the example of open professions and intellectual communities in society and saw that many of the thriving communities are among the least enamored with credentialism (with the major exception of the health care industry that I will address momentarily). I saw this in entrepreneurial endeavors, many tech industries, sales and marketing, service industries, as well the tech-meets-social sector that continues to grow. In open professions, the high school diploma or college degree is still a common and respected pathway, but not at the exclusion of other, admittedly less traveled routes. I saw badges as a way to validate and expand these alternatives.

The same is true for those seeing the benefit in a broad and liberal arts education. As long as academia touts its pathway to the liberal arts as the only or superior one, we are hurting the expansion of the liberal arts in society. I’ve long contended that advocates of the liberal arts should be the first to promote informal learning, continuing education, and liberal arts learning beyond the classroom. The liberal arts is in full bloom when people value their books and music, they use their library cards, congregate for book clubs, participate in public lectures and gatherings to explore topics of personal and social import. It happens when museums and galleries are well-funded (due to the desire of the people and not just the lobbying of a small élite); these museums and galleries are valued and frequented places in communities; coffee shops, diners and pubs are robust places of idea exchange; when individuals self-organize groups for growth and learning; and when people value the intellectual life as an important part of their home and communities.

I worry that pushing the liberal arts credential as the only way to becoming a cultured and informed citizen limits the potential of the liberal arts. Yet, in a world of more open learning, the liberal arts college or curriculum doesn’t diminish. It plays a more valued role as one of many important institutions contributing to the humanities and the liberal arts in society. If the only noble place to study or experience Shakespeare is in the college classroom, Shakespeare is on life support and his prognosis does not look good.

As I’ve mused about the role of badges in shaping the future of learning and education (not just schooling), I’ve long recognized that training for healthcare is a major exception in that future. The regulation and oversight of training and credentials associated with these careers likely means that the monopoly on credentials leading to these healthcare jobs is secure well into the future. It is also possible that the model set forth in these programs is part of what is spreading to entire Universities and accrediting bodies, but I still see the open badge movement as a way to help prevent such a future.

My hope for these more open futures is fueled by the connected learning revolution. The digital age opened access to content, communities, open courses, human networks, personal learning tools and resources, and educational software. More people are using these elements to build learning communities, enhance their lives, and achieve personal learning goals. As connected learning expands, I have no doubt that value for this broader world of learning with expand with it. As that happens, open badges have a role in amplifying the effect of the connected learning revolution and de-monopolizing the issuing of valued credentials.

We are not there yet, and there is no certainty that such a possibly future will become reality. There are corporate influences at work that could either help or hijack the potential of open badges. Government and regulatory agencies have the power to create policies that limit or expand the influence of open badges. Lobbyists (many of whom would never see themselves as such) within formal education continue to have a strong voice in these matters (as I think they should), and an unwillingness to objectively assess the affordances and limitations of such a future is also a potential barrier. In addition, decisions about which direction to take with the future of the open badge infrastructure has the potential to speed or halt progress toward this future. As much as any of these, there is also the momentum of the existing system and framework in society that continues to be in favor of giving up power (even if unknowingly) to existing academic monopolies.

This does not need to be adversarial, but I am enough of a realist to know that it will be so. Such a broad change is painful. It creates new winners and losers. It challenges the agenda of desired future of influential people in government, business, and the education sector. It risks devaluing some existing credentials. It challenges people to a higher standard and level of learning. As it empowers more people, that means others will potentially lose some of their existing influence, and they are unlikely to do that without resistance. With such considerations involved, the future that first captured my interest in badges is less than certain, but I continue to see it as an interesting, if not promising possibility and path to recover from credentialism in society.

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What Will Classrooms Look Like in 2120?

What will a classroom look like in 2120? On October 25th, George Joeckel posted on LinkedIn about a recent McDonald’s commercial that spotlights the classroom of 2120. The purpose of the commercial has nothing to do with the future of education. It was about McDonald’s shift to breakfast all day, with a teacher of the future leading a history lesson, explaining the outlandish fact that, 105 years ago, people could only buy breakfast in the morning. You can check out the original commercial here.

In his article/critique, Joeckel pointed out the underwhelming vision of the classroom of the future in the commercial. He challenged readers to watch it and note some of the issues with the video. Consider the following facts.

  • There is still an old-school whiteboard in the front of the classroom.
  • Students are still sitting in desks in straight rows, with the teacher lecturing from the front of the room. Granted, they do have some sort of embedded screen in their 1880s desks, but the scene is otherwise the same as what we see today and we could have seen a hundred years ago. By the way, I worked on something similar for a science lab classroom in 1995.
  • The teacher is telling instead of showing and allowing students to experience it.
  • There is a short throw projector in the front of the room, but the background is black instead of white. Otherwise, it is pretty much what we have today.
  • The teacher is wearing traditional glasses. No progress on the healthcare front in 105 years?
  • There is an analog clock in the back of the room.
  • There are old-school classroom bulletin boards in the back of the room.

As explained by Joeckel, “Assuming that McDonalds didn’t say to its ad agency–Leo Burnett–‘Although we’re fighting for our lives against the rise of fast casual restaurants AND we’re paying you guys millions of dollars a year, make sure that we look like unimaginative, status-quo dolts by presenting the laziest version of the future you can slap together’–the visual design of this ‘classroom of the future’ is rife with fails.”

Casting a vision for the classroom of ten years from now is challenging enough. Trying to imagine something 105 years into the future is nearly impossible. Yet, I think we can be confident that it will look nothing like what we saw in the commercial. Personalized learning, learning analytics, research on the brain and learning, and virtual reality will all help reshape classrooms before that time. The idea of a learning community will be alive and well, but its look and feel will be different. If there are talking heads and traditional classrooms, I expect that they will be supplemented by immersive virtual reality tours, allowing students to not just hear about an idea, but to experience it with their senses. Place-based learning will be alive, but the classroom itself will be a chameleon, able to take learners to places around the world, more similar to the Star Trek holodeck than a contemporary classroom. Some learners will likely be in the same physical room while others will be participating remotely, but experiencing the same virtual reality.

In reality, much of what I just listed may well be thriving and dominating in less than fifty years, and I’m hesitant to share what I really expect to see in 105 years. That might just isolate me a bit too much from my readers. So, for now, I’ll stick with the conservative speculations.

Of course, trying to convey such concepts in a 20 or 30-second commercial that is really about McDonald’s all-day breakfast is a tall order, even for such a fast food behemoth. It would quickly take the attention of viewers away from the sales pitch and into an imaginative consideration of what learning and schooling might look like in 105 years. So, McDonad’s gets a pass from me for the underwhelming future classroom set. Nonetheless, it does give us a great opportunity to dream.

What do you think the classroom of 105 years from now will look like? Consider sharing your ideas in the comment section.

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