Education in the Next Century: A Bewildering Perspective

College Students in a Class. Image Credit: iStock

Have you ever wondered what attending college would look like in a world where Virtual Reality and Multiple Reality devices in the similitude of regular Rayban sunglasses, with which one can communicate with, hug, visit and, do everything else with people across the globe in 3D and real time has been adopted by over half of the world’s population?

What would education — or something as simple as college examination — look like, in an age when as a generation, our brains are permanently connected to the internet, thereby allowing for unbridled access to Google — or whatever search engine that would exist at that time — at the speed of thought without the aid of any external device? Admittedly, it can sometimes be hard for the mind to picture what college campuses would look like in an age when transfer of information to and fro the brain would not be any much different from what now takes place between PCs and flash drives — a period where memory implantation, editing, and manipulation happens more times than pizzas are ordered from McDonald’s.

What kind of halls would you envision for a generation of college kids who show up for classes clutching Watson Tablet Supercomputers? Yes, I know IBM has not started mass-producing Watson and I don’t even know if Watson Tabs exist, but sure one day, they will — and sure enough in more forms than we would likely imagine today.

Which sort of education would college kids be getting in an age when robots would have successfully stripped most humans of their means of livelihood and how many years would one need to spare to acquire such kind of education?

While most people would agree that education is leaning towards virtual classrooms and that individualized learning offered through multiple delivery channels and sources is the way to go, not everyone agrees traditional universities are undergoing such an unprecedented degree of disruption capable of rendering many of them obsolete in a short time.

Judging by the fact that except for the widespread adoption of computers, our classrooms today don’t look any much different than they did 50 years ago, it would be easy to fall into the error of thinking that not much would change in the near future.

Except for a few innovative ones, the vast majority of colleges across the globe have actively played the technological laggard, largely unwilling to yield to tectonic changes driven primarily by technology while mostly implementing a curriculum so expensive that most are already proving to be no more than economic deadweights without huge government-provided and external funding despite charging tuition fees high enough to keep more than half their students in student-loan debts for decades after graduation. Considering that college cost– which has rapidly risen beyond the reach of most families in a world where wages have not seen a commensurate amount of increase — to be an additive problem, I, therefore am persuaded that time is coming when the college bubble will burst.

Already, many an employer are complaining over huge gaps between the kind of technological skills universities eventually confer on their students by the time they graduate and present-day labour market demands. As demands for better skilled workers continue to grow, in the short term (I use that word carefully now), two fundamental routes would most likely emerge. The regular college route, where you spend an average of four years and a few hundred thousand dollars and another where the right certificate courses taken online would do just as fine. As demand for high-skilled tech workers continue to increase, we would also see a major departure from conventional demand for four-year degree among employers — a situation that would greatly elevate the status of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and force traditional universities to not only crash tuition to just a minor fraction of what it used to be, but also force them the focus more on certification courses offered online. At this point, the necessity for student loans would begin to diminish till it ultimately disappears because college costs would plunge, and continue to remain really low.

Kids Gaming With Occulus Rift Headsets. Image Credit: Kzero

Now MOOCs do not require accreditation, in the near future, they would require accreditation. And many small size universities and colleges would be forced to either collaborate or merge with larger more innovative ones, or be naturally deleted altogether from the scene. Elite institutions such as Harvard and MIT would be around for a long time — MOOCs are already dominating the online education scene, putting them in such position of strength that would last long after traditional post-secondary education institution would have been disrupted.

With time, college entrance exams and every other exam for that matter would become more and irrelevant to the point of complete uselessness. How do you test a student whose brain is connected to the internet and every question can be Googled the moment one thinks about it? Or one who is in possession of a Multiple-Reality device which is in itself far more than just a superintelligent virtual assistant capable of being mentally controlled.

In the long term, the outlook is actually scarier. Take for example the year 2080. Assuming we then know how to use our brain as a Hard Disk Drive and are finally able to transfer information to and fro the brain as now done between a flash drive and a PC, then no one would bother going to sit in a college campus for four years, or even one year. By that time, the mode of college education would primarily be via knowledge transfer. The best brains in all fields would have the professional knowledge they have accumulated over the years in their brains ripped and kept updated and would be transferred unto students when they pay for it. For the courses that involves learning through heavy practical application such as engineering or medicine, all the practical sessions would have been recorded an interactive transferable hologram-like video, which the students — with the aid Multiple Reality devices — are able to practice as though they were in a live practical session and can even upload to their brain without practice if they choose.

By this time, most university campuses would not be sitting on vast areas of land whose landscape are dotted by dozens of multi-million dollar state-of-the-art buildings that cost a fortune to maintain. All of that would hardly be necessary anymore. Many professors would need to get another job by the side since hardly would any student have the time to come and sit on a campus to study for knowledge he already has in his brain.

The United States, The UK, and Australia, which have, for decades been choice destinations for international students would then no longer have to bother that scheming terrorism- planning immigrants would use college education as a backdoor to gain entry into their soils.

Zoom into the future a little farther and things begin to spin into the boundary of the downright unimaginable. By this time Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning would have made sure that every single imaginable process has been automated. Smart algorithms would have given us superintelligent robots who would do practically everything from performing the role of the a house help — which would cook and do household chores — to diagnosing and operating on patients to policing communities — practically nothing would remain as a job for 99.999% of the human race. More interesting would be the fact that the robots being superintelligent and capable of updating their knowledge base continually from the internet and boosting physical strength far more than any human can ever dream of and would never fall ill or request to be paid salaries — it would be preferable to employ them than human.

At this juncture, college education would be just no more than some knowledge uploaded unto the brain at perhaps age ten and automatically updated by a brain connected to the internet — and would be used, practically for almost nothing at all.