I'm not exactly sure I would turn to Sebastian Thrun for predictions about the future of education, but Wired does, and this half hour video interview is the result. "In the past, Thrun says, school districts and university professors alike had been risk-averse. But he’s convinced that the move to online learning forced by coronavirus will help naysayers realize that going digital could make it easier for some to learn. Adult education, Udacity’s focus, seems like a good place to start." The focus on adult education reflects a recent publication from the Open University. "Over 40% of Gen Z and millennial learners and 33% of Gen X and boomer learners crave self-directed learning experiences... 94% of workers like to learn at their own pace (and) 58% learn at the point where they need it most." At a certain point we have to ask why we don't help young people learn using the tools and methods they will use for the rest of their lives, instead of providing the social equivalent of (as the report says) sheep dipping.
This isn't tech news but I think it's significant. It's partially in response to a letter to Trudeau from a coalition of student organizations. "Students and recent graduates who are just starting their careers now face the most uncertain job market since the Great Depression. The devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are being felt across the country," the students wrote. They are right, and as always, they are the least able of any in the education system to bear the financial burdens.
Pundits are predicting the future of online learning in 2020 and beyond. Clive Shepherd invites us to think about how we watch music, drama or sport - if you wanted to do it all live face-to-face, "unless you're rich and with considerable discretionary time, it would be completely impractical." And the same too with learning, in the future. Others, meanwhile, disagree. Fordham's Robert Pondiscio argues "Kids will go back to brick-and-mortar schools... the act of sending our kids every morning to a place called a school is a cultural habit formed over many generations." Not to mention the fact that, in many home, both parents have to go to work just to makes ends meet.
Similarly, Alex Usher says predictions that all learning will go online are nonsense. "Education is social," he argues, and online learning isn't set up for that. Well, first, yes it is set up for that, but more importantly, second, as I've argued numerous times in the past, voters at some point will tire of paying for social clubs for rich people while doing nothing for people who can't afford it. Bryan Alexander, meanwhile, covers his bases and predicts three different outcomes.
But it doesn't matter. I think any genuine futurist in the field of online learning could and should have seen this coming. As I've repeated through the years, "educational providers will one day face an overnight crisis that was 20 years in the making." Now it's here.
We in Canada spend almost $30 billion annually on higher education, about half of which comes from government sources, and almost a third comes from student tuition. About 60% pays for salaries and benefits. I wonder what people would say is 'the higher ed we need now' as a return for this investment. Here's what Goldie Blumenstyk suggests (quoted):
Now I think that this is a pretty good starting point. This would go a long way toward making higher education the community resource it should be. My question is, is there a way to get from where we are to where we could be?
Conditions are ripe for a fundamental shift in how higher education is managed in the western world. First, this, from Peter Murray-Rust: "Try looking for information on vaccines in Taylor and Francis: 48K hits. Now do this for openly accessible articles: 12K hits. so 75% of the T+F literature on 'vaccine' is paywalled." That is not how you serve your community. Meanwhile, we have the story about Harvard and Yale, with billions in endowments, accepting millions in Covid relief money. That is not how you serve your community. Meanwhile, some professors are saying they deserve extra combat pay and universities continue to charge full tuition. Others are saying (paraphrased) "people might die, but Purdue has to reopen, because of our educational mission." And here's how the community is responding, fairly or not: public universities in Canada are being told to prepare for 30% cuts.
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