Education

Schooling For Tomorrow: Top Five Technologies That Will Reshape The Future Of Education

A deep-dive into the exponential technologies (and mindsets) that are mission-critical for educating the next generation.
Schooling For Tomorrow: Top Five Technologies That Will Reshape The Future Of Education
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Co-founder and Executive Chairman at Singularity University
9 min read
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Last month, I discussed how education needs to radically change to both leverage today’s exponential tools, and innovate around the most prominent emerging industries of the 21st century. As automation and tech-driven professions challenge us to give up 20th century curricula and educational tools, it is critical that we undergo a major update to how we educate our kids. That’s why this month, I’m doing a deep-dive into the exponential technologies and mindsets that are missioncritical for educating the next generation.

Here’s an overview of the top five technologies that will reshape the future of education:

1. VIRTUAL REALITY (VR)

Research has shown that we remember 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, and up to 90% of what we do or simulate. Virtual reality yields the latter scenario impeccably. VR enables students to simulate flying through the bloodstream, while learning about different cells they encounter, or travel to Mars to inspect the surface for life. To make this a reality, Google Cardboard just launched its Pioneer Expeditions product. Under this program, thousands of schools around the world have gotten a kit containing everything a teacher needs to take his or her class on a virtual trip. While data on VR use in K-12 schools and colleges have yet to be gathered, the steady growth of the market is reflected in the surge of companies (including zSpace, Alchemy VR, and Immersive VR Education) solely dedicated to providing schools with packaged education curriculum and content. Add to VR a related technology called augmented reality (AR), and experiential education really comes alive. Imagine wearing an AR headset that is able to superimpose educational lessons on top of real-world experiences. Interested in botany? As you walk through a garden, the AR headset superimposes the name and details of every plant you see.

2. 3D PRINTING

Never mind the computer on every desktop (or a tablet for every student): that’s a given. In the near future, teachers and students will want or have a 3D printer on the desk to help them learn core science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) principles. Bre Pettis, of MakerBot Industries, in a grand but practical vision, sees a 3D printer on every school desk in America. “Imagine if you had a 3D printer instead of a LEGO set when you were a kid- what would life be like now?” asks Pettis. You could print your own mini-figures, your own blocks, and you could iterate on new designs as quickly as your imagination would allow. MakerBots are now in over 5,000 K-12 schools across the United States. Taking this one step further, you could imagine having a 3D file for most entries in Wikipedia, allowing you to print out and study an object you can only read about or visualize in VR.

3. SENSORS AND NETWORKS

An explosion of sensors and networks are going to connect everyone at gigabit speeds, making access to rich video available at all times. At the same time, sensors continue to miniaturize and reduce in power, becoming embedded in everything. One benefit will be the connection of sensor data with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), such that knowledge of a child’s attention drifting, or confusion, can be easily measured and communicated. The result would be a representation of the information through an alternate modality or at a different speed.

4. MACHINE LEARNING

No two students are identical- they have different modes of learning (by reading, seeing, hearing, doing), come from different educational backgrounds, and have different intellectual capabilities and attention spans. Machine learning is making learning adaptive and personalized. Advances in machine learning and the surging adaptive learning movement are seeking to solve this problem. Companies like Knewton and Dreambox have over 15 million students on their respective adaptive learning platforms. Soon, every education application will be adaptive, learning how to personalize the lesson for a specific student. There will be adaptive quizzing apps, flashcard apps, textbook apps, simulation apps, and many more.

5. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Neal Stephenson’s book, The Diamond Age, presents a fascinating piece of educational technology called “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.” As described by Beat Schwendimann, “the primer is an interactive book that can answer a learner’s questions (spoken in natural language), teach through allegories that incorporate elements of the learner’s environment, and presents contextual just-intime information. The primer includes sensors that monitor the learner’s actions and provide feedback. The learner is in a cognitive apprenticeship with the book: The primer models a certain skill (through allegorical fairy tale characters), which the learner then imitates in real life.

The primer follows a learning progression with increasingly more complex tasks. The educational goals of the primer are humanist: To support the learner to become a strong and independently thinking person.” The primer, an individualized AI teaching companion is the result of technological convergence and is beautifully described by YouTuber CGP Grey in his video, Digital Aristotle: Thoughts on the Future of Education. Your AI companion will have unlimited access to information on the cloud and will deliver it at the optimal speed to each student in an engaging, fun way.

This AI will demonetize and democratize education, be available to everyone for free (just like Google), and offering the best education to the wealthiest and poorest children on the planet equally. This AI companion is not a tutor who spouts facts, figures and answers, but a player on the side of the student, there to help him or her learn, and in so doing, learn how to learn better. The AI is always alert, watching for signs of frustration and boredom that may precede quitting, for signs of curiosity or interest that tend to indicate active exploration, and for signs of enjoyment and mastery, which might indicate a successful learning experience.

MINDSETS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Finally, it’s important for me to discuss mindsets. How we think about the future colors how we learn and what we do. Psychology is a key element of high performance, and even more so in such a rich and diverse cultural environment that the Middle East presents. While I’ve written extensively about the importance of an abundance and exponential mindset for entrepreneurs and CEOs, I also think that attention to mindset in our elementary schools, when a child is shaping the mental “operating system” for the rest of their life, is even more important. As such, I would recommend that a school adopt a set of principles that teach and promote a number of mindsets in the fabric of their programs. Many mindsets are important to promote. Here are two to consider:

1. Nurturing optimism and an abundance mindset

We live in a competitive world, and kids experience a significant amount of pressure to perform. When they fall short, they feel deflated. We all fail at times- that’s part of life. If we want to raise “can-do” kids who can work through failure and come out stronger for it, it’s wise to nurture optimism. Optimistic kids are more willing to take healthy risks, are better problem-solvers, and experience positive relationships. You can nurture optimism in your school by starting each day by focusing on gratitude (what each child is grateful for), or a “positive focus,” in which each student takes 30 seconds to talk about what they are most excited about, or what recent event was positively impactful to them. (Note: I start every meeting inside my Strike Force team with a positive focus!) Finally, helping students understand (through data and graphs) that the world is in fact getting better (see my first book: Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think) will help them counter the continuous flow of negative news flowing through our news media. When kids feel confident in their abilities and excited about the world, they are willing to work harder and be more creative.

2. Tolerance for failure

Tolerating failure is a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult lesson to teach. But it is critically important to succeeding in life. Astro Teller, who runs Google’s innovation branch “X,” talks a lot about encouraging failure. At X, they regularly try to “kill” their ideas. If they are successful in killing an idea, and thus “failing,” they save tremendous resources in the way of time and capital. The ideas they can’t kill survive, and develop into billion-dollar businesses. The key is that each time an idea is killed, Astro rewards the team- literally, with cash bonuses. Their failure is celebrated and they become heroes. This should be reproduced in the classroom: kids should try to be critical of their best ideas (learn critical thinking), and then be celebrated for “successfully failing,” perhaps with cake, balloons, confetti, and lots of Silly String.

In a century of increasing abundance, it is long time we take education to be a self-evident human right for everyone on the planet. And more than with any other priority, we should never settle when educating our youth. Harnessing today’s newest technologies and insight into tomorrow’s industries, our schooling systems must be contextually relevant and adaptive, capable of accommodating the demands of a 21st century economy and populating a globally minded workforce. Whether born in Dubai, Boston, Nairobi, or Shanghai, children must hone a critically thoughtful mind and the ability to constantly experiment, equipped with the confidence to leverage both today’s emerging technologies, and those that will develop in the centuries to come. Ultimately, we’re heading towards a vastly more educated world. We are truly living during the most exciting time to be alive.

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