the future of learning.

Some of my graduate students have been thinking about the future of online education, particularly from the students’ perspective.

I’m intrigued by Ric’s observation that the learner of the future will still be, well, a learner. As probably the youngest of the four students considering this question, he indicates he is still learning new tricks and technologies, and online learners will likely still be keeping up, although they may adapt faster.

Liz, fresh off a stint moderating discussion boards in an online undergraduate mass com course, observes that students just entering the system aren’t as engaged as we might expect. And Tim wonders if the learner of the future has the discipline required to be a self-directed learner, particularly in an online environment. Millennials are in some way a very “entitled” generation, one that studies what they are interested in and ignores what they are not.

That means teachers have to make the content interesting and fresh. But it doesn’t mean they don’t get to decide what is important. With the rapid expanse of knowledge decisions about what gets taught will define the future of learning itself, in any context. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data in 2006, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010, it is estimated that this number will increase to 988.

Personally I think there will be less dependence on textbooks and more emphasis on collaboration. But conversations about the canon of the classroom will be dominant for the next few years, as we sort out the speed and focus of education.

We will have to raise the stakes, however, if we want students to be more engaged. Joanne’s citation was pertinent here. In a 2005 article for Educause Quarterly, Dede says “Many faculty will find such a shift in instruction difficult, but through professional development they can accommodate neomillennial learning styles to continue teaching effectively as the nature of students evolves.”

Liz, following Oblinger’s work in Educause Review, points out for millennials “learning resembles Nintendo rather than logic.” Liz thinks it is an exciting time to be involved in this, if we can just keep up. But the most intriguing thing about the millennials is that they see “reality as not real, and doing as more important knowing.”

As long as current models of credentialing (degrees, certificates, etc.) are maintained, teachers will still get to decide what is ‘real” and what students “do”, but as educational systems adapt I think the role of the online instructor will shift further toward the “guide on the side” model, toward becoming a partner in collaborative projects, even at the undergraduate level.

You might as well get that Facebook account while it’s still free.

But different models of credentialing are possible and even probable. Online leaning opens the door to new ways of accommodating different learning styles, but they are very time intensive. New models of assessing and accommodating learners as well as staffing and compensating teachers have to be developed, and I imagine are being developed.

I sometimes try to imagine my millennial students and my children as teachers. What will they do differently? And what will they remember about the expensive and unwieldy systems we have built?

One thought on “the future of learning.

  1. Anna says:

    The future of e-learning is something we at have been interested in discussing–especially regarding the future of LMSs.

    At the start of 2008, about 4 million students were taking online courses in universities and other higher education institutions, many of those courses hosted by learning management systems. But I wonder, how do students really feel about online courses, and the experience of collaborative learning that’s also involved?

    In winter 2006, students at the University of Denver also using Blackboard as their LMS expressed general satisfaction with it. They were pleased because of the LMS’s ease of use, the flexible access to learning materials, enhanced communication with educators and fellow learners, and facilitated collaboration on group projects. As well, students appreciated the constant access to grades and assignments.

    What students were overall dissatisfied with were that not all educators used the LMS, that of those teachers who did, some only barely used it, that many who used the LMS didn’t effectively know how to reap its benefits, that its use was inconsistent, and that some teachers relied wholeheartedly on the system, instead of incorporating varied teaching modes into the courses.

    According to the Sloan report, which is based on a poll of academic leaders, students generally appear at least equally satisfied with their online classes as they were with traditional ones. I wonder–does this reveal more about the quality of online courses or of the traditional courses students experienced?

    Regardless of the answer to that, with more educators able to instruct using technology in their courses, greater quality and accessibility in course content offered online, and increasingly computer-savvy generations of students, the feedback is bound to become only more positive.

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