The main global challenges pertaining to learning are related to the curation, contextualisation and control of a rapidly increasing amount of data, information and learning content. As the O3B (‘other three billion’) initiatives make continuous efforts to provide internet connectivity to the world’s developing markets, there is going to be a definite shift in the use, makeup and function of the internet as its usership reaches unfathomable numbers. With this considerable expansion in connectivity, as well as the increase in widely available cheap devices at a time when 60% of online traffic is already on mobile, there is a going to be a tidal wave of content that is accessible all of the time, anywhere. As the ability to learn whatever, whenever continues to empower the individual learner, traditional learning content providers and distributors will face the challenge of repositioning themselves within the new ecosystem that is emerging.
For learners, everything they will need to know in order to progress in their chosen discipline will be available online, but it is going to be vital that there is a way of filtering and curating this overwhelming wealth of information in a way that is simple, intuitive and valuable. A learner needs to feel confident that the answers they are getting are accurate, up-to-date and the best input for meeting their needs.
With learning taking place across a vast range of content types and platforms another challenge will be providing an assessment and accreditation framework that is able to reflect the investment and aspirations of learners around the globe. The learning that takes place on a mobile device at the instigation of an inquisitive learner needs to have the same status as courses delivered in the traditional learning environments of schools and universities.
A key question that arises is whether virtual, online learning is able to replicate the powerfully immersive interactions that form the basis of face-to-face exchanges. Learning is grounded in the interplay of conversation, experience and meaning. Are applications and algorithms capable of creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities that are based on actually understanding the learner and responding to their needs?
Furthermore, is the world in danger of losing the ability to ‘learn’ properly? With every answer to every question being only a touch screen away, does it mean that learners are only going to be threading together an uninterrupted sequence of hastily-consumed information chunks rather than internalising and applying their knowledge in ways that are personal to them? Or, conversely, is a new learning skill being developed as a result of the immense amount of information at our disposal? This skill could enable learners to locate, extract and apply precisely what they need, precisely when they need it, without having to wrack their memories for classes they took years previously. The words “I don’t know” would become redundant.
It is certain that learning material will no longer be delivered in discrete packets of content as with the print model. Instead, publishers and content creators will have all of their content available in the cloud for learners to access as and when they need to. Learning content will emulate the model of music streaming; rather than purchasing the music as a product, the listener pays for access. As such, a learner will be able to engage with valuable learning content as and when they need to without needing to subscribe to full courses or a full set of materials.
We would also predict that the flexibility and responsiveness of digital learning platforms and approaches will greatly influence the way that learning is promoted in traditional environments. As adaptive and personalised learning develops thanks to the considerable data that is being captured on the behaviours and abilities of learners, so too will classrooms and other physical learning spaces become less rigid and passive in their arrangement and use. In all levels of education, from reception to university, learning spaces will evolve into configurable, inductive interfaces that empower the learner to create an environment that works best for them. The ancient paradigm of a teacher-led learning approach as represented by rows of identical desks or chairs facing the same single point of reference at the front of the room will be replaced by a more fluid, collaborative pedagogical method.
Furthermore, we predict that there will be a movement away from a top-down, broadcast approach of learning to a hyper-collaborative global network consisting of learners, institutions and content providers. Larger entities will emerge within that network but there will no longer be any oligopolies in the learning sector. Well-established learning institutions will need to learn how to best position themselves within this new learning ecosystem.
It’s uncertain whether the adaptive learning technologies that are able to leverage the immense amount of data generated by and about each individual learner will be able to provide the same quality of learning that face-to-face instruction has done historically. An adaptive learning engine is able to identify what content a learner needs to cover in order to achieve predetermined objectives, for example, but can it help a learner discover for themselves what it is they need to learn in order to reach their own set of goals? Despite the personalisation that is provided through adaptive learning products there is still the challenge of maintaining the focus on the individual and their desires and ambitions when it comes to their learning.
It’s also uncertain how learning institutions and the hyper-collaborative network paradigm are going to exist in combination. It can be argued that there will remain a place and a use for institutions that implement a more deductive pedagogical approach, but how such institutions will communicate and contribute to the network of connected and highly-motivated learner/users is difficult to anticipate.
Furthermore, it’s not clear what the impact will be of the overwhelming amount of information that is going to going to be available once internet connectivity reaches the O3B markets and as mobile interactions continue to represent the lion’s share of internet traffic. How will learners be able to navigate and filter the overwhelming volume of material at their disposal in order to locate content that is directly going to be of benefit to them?