Five scenarios for learning in the '20s

How will learning change and develop during the next ten years? Will teachers become useless as AI takes control of classrooms and pupils study and learn independently using their mobile devices? Will formal education and the institutions that provide it stay at the pace of the rest of society, or will they perish? Will formal education continue dominating the field of learning and teaching? And what is just-in-time learning?

HolonIQ has done an extensive, bidirectional data-analysis. The results show there are five different scenarios, each equally possible and equally exciting.

How do these scenarios look like?

1. Same old, same old (Education-as-Usual)

In this scenario, traditional education institutions are still going strong, and classical education remains the safest and most predictable way to ensure one work and living. Society changes at a fast pace, and so do the needs for new kinds of skills for employees, which has a remarkable effect on post-secondary education. New, quick education tracks will be developed to fill this need. There lies a danger, though: will the emphasis be on quantity, not on quality?

The need for English-speaking workforce is increasing as ever before, and this need is emphasized as the highly educated workforce of the developing regions enters the labor market as most of these newcomers will be employed by English-speaking companies.

Different blockchain technologies are being continuously developed for authentication and verification of know-how. Education remains in the hands of the governments and is local and traditional, and the teachers' role remains significant. Education costs are still mainly paid for by the governments, and educating oneself is still of high price and therefore not for everybody. The learning model emphasizes theory, not practice, and mostly requires physical participation at campuses, etc. Lectures are targeted to groups, and teaching is teacher-centered. The role of technology is facilitating, not value in itself.

2. Co-operation of regions (Regional Rising)

In this scenario, regional collaboration is a way to tackle both the challenge caused by the aging of the workforce in the developed regions and the massive need for education in the developing areas. Especially in Asia, efforts to decrease brain-drain to the West are being made by developing the educational system.

As in the previous model, education remains government-owned, although locality is moving towards globality. Various educational institutions remain significant factors in the field. The government mostly pays the education costs, but access to education becomes more equal. The price of education for individuals diminishes. Teaching is still mainly focused on theory, and physical attendance to classes is required. Teaching is targeted to groups, not individuals, but the level of self-paced learning is increasing. Technology remains in a facilitating role in this scenario, too.

3. Most perish, some grow (Global Giants)

Accelerating globalization has united the nations and technology enables more and more efficient sharing of ideas and values throughout the Globe. This kind of environment is favorable for ubiquitous "mega organizations" that also expand to the education sector. The small, local education institutions cannot compete with these companies that grow through acquisitions – e.g., buying EdTech startups. These large companies supply everything within education: content, assessment, analytics, communications, and reporting. They expand vigorously to the markets of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where most of the citizens only access the internet via smartphones, and in which the majority of the learners are located. In this scenario, the importance of just-in-time learning stands out, as organizations require skilled, remote, and technology-oriented workforce: just when needed and possessing just the right skills and knowledge for the job in question.

Traditional education institutions like universities either unite or return to research activities, as few institutions that have a substantial brand success in transforming to modern, global players, partially utilizing their influential alumni.

In this scenario, education has become market-driven and global, and it is still focused on institutions, albeit commercial ones. Education requires technology and is funded by the private sector and targeted to the masses. The price of education for individuals has come down markedly. The learning model is practical, digitalized, and individual, and teaching progresses self-paced. This scenario presents technology in a prominent role – it's no more a facilitator but a necessity.

4. Teaching me teaching you (Peer-to-Peer)

In this scenario, peer learning is a great way to acquire skills and to get a living, too. Peer learning is a whole new kind of way to live and earn. The consumers transform into producers and creators as ubiquitous networks, and decreasing costs enables a flexible way to acquire all sorts of services. The consumers no more trust the traditional institutions. The peer-reviewed expert and skills training is the essence of this model.

The abundance of smartphones and platforms that facilitate information sharing, along with the development of blockchains, alter learning to digitalized learning: contents become rich, personalized, and offer human-to-human experience both in post-secondary and skills training sectors. Learning integrates into the daily routines of learners, and micro-learning becomes customary. The acquired micro-credentials are recorded to blockchains, and each of us can compile just the kind of palet of knowledge and know-how we wish to.

There is an enormous need for contingent workforce in the global market, which means exploding growth of flexible, efficient, just-in-time, personalized, and continuous knowledge development supply, and this demand is fulfilled by the global peer-to-peer learning market. Various learning platforms match learners with experts, social networks build trust, invoicing can be dealt with multiple payment methods, and peer-reviews are used to regulate the behavior of the service providers.

In this scenario, the balance of power concerning education has moved from governments to the private market. Education remains more local than global but is entirely individualized. In this model, educating requires both humans and technology. Education is targeted to the masses, and it is used to pursuing private gain. The price of education has collapsed. The learning model is practical and digitalized, individual, but still instructor-led. In this scenario, technology is the prerequisite for education supply.

5. Will there be any humans left (Robo Revolution)

In this scenario, the labor shortage has led to broader and broader applications of AI, and it has become an essential part of many industries. In teaching, AI plans the learning experience and connects human teachers to the process when necessary. Although AI has taken parts of the work previously done by humans, the need for skills that cannot be replaced by machines is growing: creativity, leadership, and emotional intelligence become more and more vital.

Virtual coaches become common, and almost all adult learners have this kind of AIs tutoring them. AI takes care of organizing, curating, recommending, administering, recording, and dynamically editing the learning activities based on the learner's progression, likings, and goals. Post-secondary institutions are in an essential role as they provide a possibility to acquire practical experience, social interaction, and disciplinary knowledge when necessary.

Digitalized learning assistants are a common sight in most K12 classes globally. These AIs do most of the teachers' administering work, but they also participate in teaching and are used e.g., in facilitating the children's reading development.

This scenario shows us a situation in which education is mostly market-driven. Education is wholly based on technology. The public and private sectors both cover half of the costs of education, and the price of education for individuals is very low. The learning model is more practical than theoretical and almost wholly digitalized. Teaching is individual and both self-paced and instructor-led. Technology is essential.

How likely are any of these scenarios?

Part of the scenarios introduced seem quite distant, but partially the development towards them is already visible. E.g., Global Giants and Peer-to-Peer seem very likely and realistic. There are also already signs of the realization of the Education-as-usual scenario, as e.g., the social and healthcare sector is trying to tackle the shortage of workforce by creating new kinds of fast educational solutions, as is done in Jyväskylä city (see the link).

Regardless of the model, the significance of technology and the need for blockchain technologies are rapidly increasing, and learning is moving online. This development can be seen both from the rapid growth of MOOCs and from e.g., LAB (University of Applied Sciences of Lappeenranta and Lahti) is planning an entirely online training for Bachelors of Social Work.


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