What will future learning environments look like?

Well here we are… At the end of another course for another term. I have to say this one was a lot of work but I think I survived but we shall see when the grades come out.

This weeks Blog post is supposed to answer the question, “What will future learning environments look like?” and my short answer is… I haven’t the foggiest.

Actually that is not true, there is one thing I can be certain of. Learning environments of tomorrow won’t look anything like the learning environments of today.

There you have it, the sum of my collective wisdom but I suppose my prof might like a little more insight so I guess I have to give a long answer.

I think it is safe to say that future learning environments will be a lot messier than they are today. For better or worse, the regimented, orderly Victorian school model we were all brought up in  is quickly going the way of the Dodo. The extinction of this 300 year old educational paradigm has caused a great deal of distress for many and for good reason. This is what we know, this is what has worked for 300 years and this is what brought us to this point in history. Why throw it out?

People genuinely feel that we are on the brink of a change that may lead the world to ruin and they may be right or they may be wrong. That is the thing with change, you can never predict the result with 100% accuracy. So where are we headed?

I think the biggest and most immediate changes will being at the top and move their way down to the lower grades and much of this will be driven by the economy not technology. We are already seeing kids question why they should bother going to University if becoming gainfully employed once they are done is a crapshoot at best. A university education is no longer a ticket to a prosperous existence. As a result, young adults are starting to assess their education needs rather than blindly heading to University because that is “just what you do.” The result of this is that the one size fits all on masse education system is crumbling from the top down.

Young adults are now faced with either going through the motions of a traditional university education or doing something that allows them to become gainfully employed without acquiring a mass of educational debt. It is here where you can begin to see the engine behind the personalized learning movement.

If a young adult can become educated in a field that interests them and provides them with gainful employment without 4, 5, 6+ years of university education, then why wouldn’t they take that opportunity? If we can start a young adult down that road when they are 16 and have them become a useful tax paying citizen before they are middle-aged, why wouldn’t we?

It doesn’t take much to see how starting from the top and working our way down the grades, personalized purpose driven education can begin to take hold. The problem is, how deep do we go? Don’t we need a common education by which we can build our society around? If we allow our children to specialize too soon, doesn’t that deprive our children from educational opportunities down the line as they get older?

These are good question that need to be considered but in the same breath, having our population of young adults warehoused indefinitely in post secondary institutions just because “that is the way it has always been done”, isn’t very good for them or society either.

In a world where university dropouts have proven to be just as capable of success as the long tortured university graduate, you begin to wonder if encouraging kids to go through the motions of a lengthy prescribed education program is really the best thing for everyone?

Don’t get me wrong… Education is good. Your odds of living a happy, healthy, productive life still go up if you attend a Post Secondary program but is there a better way?

So back to the original question. What will future learning environments look like? With the aforementioned in mind, here are my predictions.

  1. Learning will become ever more connected and dependent on the internet.
  2. If schools don’t deliver the curriculum they desire, students will develop their ares of interest outside of the school setting.
  3. If skills learned outside of the school setting begin to be recognized by employers as valuable and relevant we will begin to see an increase in High School Drop out and a decline in Post Secondary attendance.
  4. Organizations like Degreed will continue to recognize and give credence to work and learning done outside of the formal setting.
  5. In the digital world, programs like Mozilla Badges and Google’s Certification will continue to grow and allow learners to showcase their learning and skills outside of the formal educational setting.
  6. Hands on learning opportunities will become more in demand and traditional lecture style learning will decline significantly.
  7. Student will have to become more independent and self motivated as teachers stop dragging kids through the curriculum.
  8. Assessment will become more about show me rather than test me.
  9. Thousands of students will be left behind in this transition from old school to new school.
  10. The age of Free Agent Learning will become the order of the day.

For better or worse this is my prediction for the future of learning in the Western World.

There is one factor that may throw a monkey wrench into the who thing, which is probably worth a mention and that is the way we parent our children these days. Today’s parents have this strange compulsive need to engineer their children’s lives and this need for control fly’s in the face of what 21st First Century Learning is all about.

Parents these days won’t let their children be independent, experiment, inquire, free play or god forbid fail. Everything a child does these days has to be a carefully engineered exercise, maximized for optimum learning.

21st Century Learning is about independence and letting go of control over the child. 21 Century Parenting is all about complete control of every aspect of a child’s life. The two are completely incompatible.


  1. skoki12Brad Wilson

    Hi Keith,

    I want to offer a criticism of the tone of your blog. Your seem to assert that the sole purpose of education is to become gainfully employed and a contributing tax payer. I would counter that is simply one purpose of education. Another would be to produce a citizen who can participate and contribute to the democracy which makes our society livable. I don’t think the current system does a great job of that, but it does contribute to that outcome. What will we do in the future if it is decided that learning about democracy and how to responsibly act in one is not necessary to producing a person who contributes to the economy? What if the student decides they have no interest in learning about the democratic struggles that created Canada? What if the student decides they have no interest in learning how First Nations people in Canada have been systemically discriminated against since confederation until fairly recently?

    I am assuming you value those things too. So we will still need some sort of mandatory education that everyone must take. That kind of education about society, democracy, human interaction in a capitalist economy cannot be done in isolation. It will need people to sit down in person – not online – to really achieve a deep understanding of those issues.

    I agree that the economy – and those in control of it – will decide how education is delivered in the future. Unfortunately I see our wise leaders in Victoria opting for more tech and therefore more online courses to achieve their goals. Those goals include putting public money in private sector hands and reducing the cost of education. Perhaps one teacher will have 300 students because the ‘learning’ will be all online.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Brad Wilson

    1. Post

      Thanks for our thoughtful comment.

      No argument from me other than from a purely practical sense, I DO think the ultimate goal of education is employment but you have to realize where I am coming from. I come from a family where employment WAS the purpose of education. The standard line from my parents was “I don’t care what the hell you do, I just don’t want you living out of my back pocket!” I was not afforded the luxury of a leisurely trip through school flitting here and there, exploring the meaning of life. School was a means to employment, period.

      However, even with this attitude toward education indelibly imprinted on my psyche, I did manage to come to appreciate all that you mention in your first paragraph and so did most of my friends many of whom dropped out before high school was done. What you value about education wasn’t JUST taught in our schools, it was the life we led, the belief system by which my blue collar community lived by. These people were the ones who fought for all that our current government(s) are trying to strip away. They were the democracy we are rapidly losing.

      I would contest that what you seek from society can’t be taught, it can only be lived and as our rights as citizens are stripped away, people will eventually push back to regain our democracy regardless of how they are educated. Our problems in this world are not that we haven’t learned about democracy in the classroom it is that we don’t live it in our daily lives. We have been anaesthetized by the tyranny of consumerism. We are too comfortable warehoused in our schools, entertained by mindless media and placated by shopping mall madness.

      We don’t care about democracy because we are a product of our economy. Democracy demands attention and we are all too comfortable to care. Education has little to do with today’s twisted society.

      Thanks again.

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