Dynamic development of new technologies – known as the Industry 4.0 – has been changing the modern world and the economy since the early 1990s. The biggest changes have taken place in trade, methods of communicating, and in medicine.
One of the areas which haven’t been significantly impacted by new technologies thus far is education. People all over the world are still following a similar educational path: they go to schools and then to colleges or vocational schools. Experiments such as handing out tablets or laptops to students have disappointing results – the recipients do not become better students than those who do not have access to such technology.
A question arises of how will the new technologies – such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or the Internet of Things (IoT) – change education in the coming years and decades? Because no one has any doubt that a change will take place.
According to the estimates of the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children currently attending primary schools will be working in professions that do not yet exist, and which will be associated with new technologies, such as Big Data, robotics, blockchain, 3D printing, AR and VR, as well as AI.
“Educational policy has to start taking this into account. This is already happening, among others, in Japan. The Japanese government recently decided that, starting from 2020, primary schools will include classes on machine programming logic, which is supposed to prepare coming generations for cooperation with robots and AI,” indicates Keisuke Kondo from the University of Kobe in a text recently published on the VoxEU website.
Technologies will redefine the model of education
The current model of intramural and standardized education is derived from the 19th century. It is increasingly mismatched with the needs of today’s children and youth, and is increasingly failing to prepare them for professional and social life. “Anything that is a routine activity will be automated in the future, and this requires a new model of education on a global scale, one which puts emphasis on creativity,” stated Minouche Shafik, the Director of the London School of Economics, during this year’s summit in Davos. „This remodeling is also crucial in the political context. The growing popularity of populist parties is, among other things, the result of the low level of education in the society,” she added.
„Students around the world are getting bored during classes, that’s the truth. In most countries education is treated like an industrial product. Units of knowledge have to be delivered and hammered into pupils’ heads. Of course, here and there, we can see the individualization of the teaching process, but this is still a marginal approach,” notes Professor Vivek Wadhwa, an expert in the field of education from Carnegie Mellon University.
According to Marc Prensky, the founder and director of The Global Future Education Foundation and Institute, along with the development of technology and the evolution of the education process, the era of learning various things „just in case” will be over, and there will be no place for general education. “Teaching must be situated within the context of the time, place and, above all, in the context of the learner’s skills and interests. The future of education is engaging, individualized educational projects, and not sitting in a classroom and listening to a standardized lecture,” says Prensky.
Virtual learning as a standard
Experts have no doubt that the education process will become increasingly individualized, and will be facilitated by technologies such as AI, AR and VR. Professor Wadhwa points out that tools such as the Skype online communicator are already effectively used for remote education. “In the United Kingdom great numbers of housewives coming from India are learning English through Skype. Of course, the physical presence of a teacher will always be needed, and face-to-face contact cannot be replaced in the teaching of certain subjects. I have no doubt, however, that in the coming years the role of video-learning and AI in the education process will significantly increase,” says Wadhwa.
Professor Wadhwa believes that AI and its cross-use with VR technologies is the future of education. He presented his vision in a book entitled „The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future”.
„The school of the future is like a home garden. The teacher has the form of an avatar, a virtual figure, who the student contacts putting on a VR headset. The teacher knows the habits and abilities of the student very well, because has been teaching him for many years. It taught him geometry by presenting the history and the process of construction of the Egyptian pyramids, because it knew that the student is very interested in the history of ancient Egypt. The avatar does not need holidays or rest, and is always available. It never gets angry, and does not introduce a nervous atmosphere into the education process. It can also read the student’s psychological and physical state and appropriately adapt the course of the lesson. When it senses that the student is tired, it will offer a break and a moment to relax with music,” writes Professor Wadhwa in the aforementioned book.
There are already many emerging companies that are working on solutions based on AI meant to support the learning process. They are, for example, examining the effectiveness of teaching or finding gaps in the specialist knowledge of a person trained as an expert in a given field.
AR is already finding application in history lessons (rendering of non-existent objects), physical education (creating games and training units based on virtual objects), architecture (3D geometry) or surgery (training on a virtual body). In 2011-2016 in the Social Sciences Citation Index there were 55 scientific articles analyzing the use of AR in education, most of which were published between 2014 and 2016. Meanwhile, VR could solve many problems currently faced by some areas of education.
„The emergence of virtual laboratories in which it will be possible to simulate experiments in physics or chemistry will certainly help in revolutionizing education,” claims Pat Bowden, an Australian who runs the Online Learning Success blog.
The teacher and the group are important
Interestingly enough, in the vision presented by Professor Wadhwa, there is also a place for traditional teachers. „They should mainly listen to students and ask them questions, in order to later direct their interests. Human teachers should also support the socialization process of their students and conduct practical classes that develop the student’s manual skills,” writes Wadhwa in the book.
In his opinion, in the future the teaching process will be similar to the one that we know from the distant past. „We will see a return to a direct master-student relationship. For example, in the school of Socrates, in ancient Greece, education was based on a dialogue, where the teacher asked students questions and then a discussion took place. The difference will be that in the future this type of education will be available to almost everyone, while in the past it was only available to elites.”
“AI will never replace human beings as teachers of interpersonal relations. Only a person can teach another person about trust, independence, cooperation skills, and empathy. However, AI can replace humans in the role of content providers. Such educational and information channels as Khan Academy or even You Tube will become increasingly better thanks to AI,” argues Marc Prensky.
An experiment conducted by an Indian researcher and IT specialist Sugata Mitra is fascinating in the context of the use of technology in education. In 1999 Mitra, who is a doctor of physics and the owner of an IT company called NIIT, mounted a computer on the wall in a slum in New Delhi, in a neighborhood with many children. Without receiving any hints the children quickly learned how to use it and then started using it for learning. Mitra repeated the experiment in various places in the „Third World” many times and the result was always similar. Mitra stressed repeatedly that the children did not have a teacher, but always worked in a group, inspiring each another.
„Group work increases creativity and engagement. It makes learning fun. That is why group education will be important in the future in spite of the development of various forms of individual education,” claims Professor Wadhwa.
Universities as incubators of creativity
The role of higher education institutions and universities will change along with the development of technology, believes Professor Sanjay Sarma, the Vice President for Open Learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). „We will be moving away from passive teaching, based on books and memorizing information, towards active learning. Academic teachers will be developing the skills of their students in a more direct way, by contacting them on the newest communication channels, using the latest technologies,” says Professor Sarma. „At MIT, we are examining the learning process and we are conducting advanced works on VR and AR technologies, which should allow us to offer a new quality of teaching in the future”.
According to Professor Sarma, in the future, universities will transform into arenas for group interdisciplinary experimentation. „They will become a space where creativity can and will flourish. The most interesting start-ups, and new ideas changing the world will be created there. They will become the centers of knowledge and skills that will be drawing local communities and local businesses into global activities,” predicts Professor Sarma.
„Universities will have to undergo an evolution. Physical presence in the classrooms will be required increasingly rarely. Nevertheless, they will continue to exist as the meeting places for the intellectual elites,” believes Marc Prensky.
Fighting inequality with education
For the time being, modern technologies are changing education in an evolutionary manner. One interesting example in this context is the history of the creation, dynamic growth and evolution of the free on-line educational courses known as MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses). It’s been 10 years since the first course of this kind was launched by the University of Manitoba.
In 2013 several hundred courses on several online platforms were available across the world. By 2017 as many as 9,400 online courses were available, offered by over 800 universities and colleges, with about 81 million students participating. According to data from Class Central, in 2017 the MOOC courses acquired 23 million new users, which is more or less the same as in 2016.
And yet in October 2017, the vice president of the company Udacity, Clarissa Shen, declared that these kinds of courses were „dead”. Udacity has stopped offering free courses. The users have to pay fees in order to participate in new courses whose number is falling. „Education is a process in which a person learns how to influence the world and how to change it. Education is not about going to a classroom where you have to sit down and waste time. This is one of the reasons why MOOC type online courses are not a great success. They do not force people to be active, they are not building relationships, and finally – they are not allowing people to change reality,” says Prensky.
Professor Wadhwa indicates that e-learning courses only fulfill their role if they are used by highly motivated, intelligent students who are able to focus for long periods of time and pick what they need. Pat Bowden, who runs the Online Learning Success blog, says that e-learning courses are not dying but evolving.
„Our experience shows that the success of courses depends on whether a community is able to emerge around them. At MIT, we’re working on virtual spaces for discussion and joint work that will be available for course participants,” admits Professor Sarma.
The popularization of technologies, which will increase access to free education could limit the growth of social inequality. The spread of the internet will also mean that more and more people will be able to complete the courses at Harvard, MIT or Oxford without even leaving their home. This will help in reducing income inequality.
“No one has any doubt, that the better is your education, the better is your life,” says Pat Bowden.
According to Professor Wadha, the disruption in education will also be socially just since the children of the richest and the poorest parents will be using very similar tools. Professor Wadhwa points out that despite rapid technological progress, not all parts of the world are ready for education with the use of modern tools because of the Internet speed and bandwidth limitations as well as the imperfection of the VR or AI tools. „We need at least a decade before modern technologies start revolutionizing the education process across the world,” believes Professor Wadhwa.
„However, new technologies will not change the education process in a significant way until the approach to raising and educating children changes and until the parents start seeing their children as people with unique skills that have to be developed,” summarizes Marc Prensky.