Internet-Enabled Education Will Provide Universal Access to Knowledge, Futurists Predict

Internet-enabled learning will open up even more access to education for people around the world by 2025.

by / March 11, 2014
Though there is much talk about the classroom of the future, one expert predicts that especially in the K-12 system, schools in 2025 will look "an awful lot like schools in 2013." Flickr/Wooleywonderworks

Eleven years from now, a revolution in Internet-enabled education will provide more learning opportunities around the world, futurists predict.

Nearly 1,500 Internet experts and citizens who actively engage with the Internet responded to a survey about how the technology would affect people's lives in 2025. Education made it onto a list of eight positive scenarios in the sixth Imagining the Internet survey released Tuesday, March 11.

This year, experts tempered their positive scenarios with more negative uses of the Internet in 2025. People have been using the Internet long enough to see its downsides, so the hype cycle is starting to fade.

Every network -- including shipping networks, highways and communications -- goes through a cycle of hype and then meets reality where we recognize that technology can be used for both good and evil. But the rise of the Internet especially has people concerned because it offers instant global and mostly anonymous communication, said Janna Anderson, associate professor of communications at Elon University and director of Imagining the Internet, an initiative of the university and the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

"That does enable crime and surveillance and other negative things in a way that's probably more frightening than ever before," Anderson said.

On the positive side, education and health care are the only two themed areas of life that are specifically mentioned in the report, with health care getting attention because of the potential for wearable technology and the Internet of Things to help patients receive advanced care.

"When you ask all these people, these experts in all these different fields, what they see as having the most impact by 2025, and education is right there, ... that's very significant," Anderson said.

Massively open online courses, online learning and the Khan Academy all received a mention from the experts as they described ways that learning would expand across typical borders. Instead of being stuck in a neighborhood school that may or may not work for them, students will be able to choose who to learn from and where they want to learn around the world. 

Adrian Schofield, manager of applied research for the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, wrote: "Education will be changed. Learning will no longer be dependent on the quality of parents and teachers in person. Scholars and students will have access to the best materials and content available globally."

They'll not only have access to the best materials, but they'll have access to everything we've ever researched and thought. And companies and universities will start to monetize large online courses that are available to anyone around the globe, said Vint Cerf, Google vice president and chief Internet evangelist.

Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, wrote, “The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge. The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China. Enabling that person—and the millions like him or her—will have a profound impact on the development of the human race. Cheap mobile devices will be available worldwide, and educational tools like the Khan Academy will be available to everyone. This will have a huge impact on literacy and numeracy, and will lead to a more informed and more educated world population.”

That said, most people who take massively open online courses today, for example, have already earned college degrees. In a University of Pennsylvania study of 400,000 people from 201 countries, researchers found that 83 percent already had college degrees. This study focused on students who took courses on the Coursera platform.

If Internet-enabled education is to reach this lofty prediction of providing universal access to knowledge, the world has a long way to go, at least with massively open online courses. 

As far as higher education goes, change will not only come to the way students learn, but how their learning will be assessed and rewarded.

Alex Halavais, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University, predicted, “The effects on learning will have the most impact, and I suspect these will be mostly for the better. I suspect we will start to see some really extraordinary changes in the way people learn over the next decade that will continue beyond that. Especially in higher education, the current institutional structures are at a breaking point, The Internet is both a large part of the problem and a part of the solution. Already, it is possible to learn in new ways using network resources, and this will continue. The larger change will be in the ways in which this learning is measured and communicated. As the diploma (high school and college) is joined by other forms of accepted credentials, traditional institutions of education will be joined by a range of alternatives. Like other institutions, the degree to which they can support and interact with these new alternatives, rather than compete with them, will determine their success.”

As cloud computing becomes more popular, the Internet cloud will take center stage, according to this next prediction. The Internet is already a place where people share and collaborate, but not necessarily toward one single goal.

Matthew Henry, chief information officer at a university, responded, “Eradication of disease, ubiquitous learning and education with cognitive science at its base, as well as understanding of each other across time, space, and cultures, will occur as ‘the Internet’ will become not a place you go to, but a part of how we live. The Internet will become a ‘world cloud’ for sharing, learning, and collaborating for the improvement of the human condition.”

But not everyone believes that education will undergo major change. When the promises of Internet-enabled education collide with reality, that experience could be like biting into a cream puff, only to find that it has no cream inside. 

Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said, “I will make one education-specific prediction: that the predictions about the transformation of the educational sector will prove far, far overblown. Especially in the K-12 system, schools in 2025 will look an awful lot like schools in 2013.”

This story was originally published by the Center for Digital Education

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor, CDE

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.

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