The Future of Education

Authors: Eszter Polyák, Zita Vajda

Due to the dynamic growth of technology, science and the international community, we can expect major changes in multiple aspects of life in the next decades. Today’s new digital technologies and the spread of the internet have created numerous new opportunities for the education of the future. Not only schools and universities but also executive training and other professional courses of study will be affected by the emergence of new technologies. With the appearance of virtual classrooms, we are advancing towards global education.

Questions of the Future in the Light of Education

The questions that we need to address include: will new forms of education take over the role of traditional education?  How value certain are degrees obtained traditionally? What new educational products and services can we expect in the future? What impact may AI have on the students of the future?

Demographic Projections

Demographic prospects strongly influence the planning of educational development, since an expanding or declining population requires different tools to raise or maintain the standards of educational systems. According to the 2015 revision of UN’s World Population Prospects, the world population is projected to exceed 9 billion in 2050. More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa, followed by the population growth in Asia.  Growth will occur even if there is a substantial reduction of fertility levels in countries currently having high fertility rates. In Africa, fertility will fall from 4.7 children per women today to 3.1 in 2050, and the trend may continue after 2050.

In these countries, the globally high growth rate of the population will entail the expansion of the population under the age of 15, further enhanced by improving infant mortality rates. Today, 41 per cent of Africa’s population is under the age of 15, and the 27 least developed countries situated on the continent will produce the highest fertility rates in the future. The young people of developing countries will have less children of their own, which also entails an increase of the age at childbearing, which may indicate an improving level of education and higher general living standards.  In the poorest countries, however, social disadvantages may be permanent, which primarily could be addressed by better social services, including the provision of education.

In developing countries, there is an increasing demand for high-quality education, and learning is the most effective tool of emerging and increasing the quality of life. For this purpose, new tools must be used both in terms of pedagogical methodology and technical devices.

By contrast, Europe will be the only region where population will decrease, and the proportion of people aged over 60 is projected to increase within the declining population. By 2050, the number of working age people per dependent may drop below 2 in 24 European countries, posing further challenges to both the economy and education, especially in the light of the problem that workforce migrating from developing countries represents.

European and North American trends show a declining rate of students, which might also transform schools. These children will often have professions that are non-existent when they go to school, therefore educational institutions will have to adapt flexibly to continuously changing circumstances. Let us have a look at how present-day education researchers would eliminate these problems by 2050.

Today’s Educationists On Future Schools

A book written by Canadian educational philosopher Kieran Egan in 2008 contends that schools need to be reformed because they are built on three flawed and incompatible goals—academic growth, social growth and developmental growth. After an overview on the history of education, he concludes the new system should be built from the basics. He created a 50-year education project, in which creativity and the ability to innovate play a prominent role.

Jim Parsons also envisaged the future when he outlined the demographic and educational status in 2050, primarily focusing on Canada. Canada, as well as other developed countries, will become an urban country with an ageing population.  Canada will become a majority minority country, and its leadership will change genders.

Digitalisation will completely transform education, the importance of reading and writing might be challenged, consequently the system of school tests will also transform. Computers will make old books unnecessary and widen the digital gap between generations.  But this age gap is trivial compared with the consequences for educational quality if the gap between the technology haves and have-nots widens. Values change worldwide, for example society is eschewing traditional leadership and hierarchies, and these influences are seeping into schools. Today there are some initiatives that create problem-based curricula, which are not conveyed frontally to students but they can become an active part of them. As a long-term consequence, learning is foreseen to occur at any time of the day and at any place, with teachers remotely facilitating self-directed learners and classrooms will become iterative spaces where learners access, network and discuss knowledge.

Most educational resources are likely to be free. The evolution towards free access to digital content is already happening.  The changes occurring in other fields of the world will also influence future students’ attitude towards knowledge, work and values, therefore the envisioned education of the future may be greatly modified by these yet unknown events.

Classrooms in 2050

In his blog Technology Enhanced Learning, David Hopkins discusses what classrooms will look like in 2050. It is conceivable that classrooms in their current sense will not be needed any more, and students can access education anywhere they may happen to be, with the only requirement being a laptop, a camera, and a wi-fi connection. As technology advances and multimedia devices are more extensively used, teachers will have more time for students and education will become customized. The education of the future will be determined by the teachers’ commitment to this new type of education method. Tutors will not just present the curriculum but act as a coach or caddie. The era of talk and chalk is over. Even college classrooms will not be physically fixed; this trend has already begun with flipped classrooms (online courses outside of class) and MOOC courses. Technical literacy of students will increase in the future; therefore, interactive and collaborative tasks will play a central role in the classrooms of the future.

Communities Centred Around Knowledge

Some ideas, including the thoughts of Dee Dickinson of Johns Hopkins University, suggest that the centre of knowledge sharing shifts into communities. As “lighthouses of knowledge”, such communities can evolve in which families and tutors create a cheap and friendly environment for learning, mutually supporting each other. These lighthouses, once known as the local library, will transform into a community focal point.

Open twenty-four hours a day year around, lighthouses are accessible to everyone and many of the resources are free—a library of real books and rooms for shared virtual realities. Adults eager to learn can use the rooms for the purposes of the Global University, with personal collaboration remaining important, but students can join virtually. Businesses can rent space and use services, and these fees support the facility, and make space available for non-profits at low costs.

In raising children, an extensive network of daycare centres that are free will play a great role. Their integration in the educational system will result in more children coming into school with the skills they need to learn successfully. Prospective parents can also take parent prep classes in the centres. Most children from age 6 to 16 will attend community learning centres that take many different forms to choose from: some may be connected to or located in workplaces, farms, museums or hospitals.  Schools, financed by the local government, respond to the needs of the immediate community and are closely connected to the system of social services.

Interaction with peers will still play an important role in learning, but electronic personal tutors (EPTs) that are able to recognise children’s needs and adapt assignments to their actual knowledge level will appear. Different subjects will be retained by these centres, although students must use and interpret what they have learnt in a broader context, such as projects. There is much emphasis on developing interpersonal skills and learning empathy.

Each classroom, thanks to technology, can be can be adapted to a current theme. Several audio-visual and other devices are applied, providing a complex experience.  The role of teachers will transform, learning specialists will be held in high esteem in the community and are paid accordingly.  Their role in educating will have expanded, with lexical knowledge transfer being less important.

The vision outlined above seems just an extraordinary utopia, but Dickinson affirms it is the result of the collaboration of an international network of researchers called New Horizons for Learning, reaching similar conclusions about potential solutions worldwide.

Technological Trends

Ted Talks, MOOCs with thousands of enrolled students as well as online tutoring platforms radically change the way education is taking place. Larry Ellison (founder and CEO of the Oracle Group) declared, “The Internet changes everything, I really mean everything.” Thus, continuous integration of technology into education is not a novelty. Today, with widely available broadband internet and established app stores for all kinds of devices, technological progress marches on. While overhead projectors and chalkboards have been state of the art for decades, today teachers are increasingly employing more technologically advanced education materials. The interaction between humans and computers is radically changing, and there are ever more direct ways of interacting with our high-tech devices. These trends lead to digital education.

Online courses have now been incorporated in the programmes of higher education institutions. According to the definition in a study by Allen & Seaman, online courses are those in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online. Interestingly, there are numerous academic programmes (including universities such as the University of Maryland University College, Western Governors University, Rio Saldo Community College) where teaching and any other administrative functions are delivered via the internet.  The extent of changes that online technology will bring about in education is not apparent yet, but it is known that technological changes take place at a much faster pace than we imagine. This fact provides the opportunity to learn more and more every day and use this knowledge more creatively. Trends expected in education on the basis of the CDTM Future of Education Trend report and The Future of Higher Education by Lasse Rouhiainen are presented below.

M-Learning: Smartphones and tablet computers have been part of our daily lives for only a decade now.  Most teenagers have smart phones, mobile data traffic has increased significantly, and there are countless learning apps to choose from. M-learning is deemed to be successful because students spend a lot of time commuting, and they could learn on the go. Furthermore, these education apps supporting learning allow students to prepare for a test or exam in interactive and exciting ways.

Big Data in education: As technology advances, large amounts of data is processed. Amazon és a Google already utilize big data in a very efficient manner. Educators also see an important role of Big Data, which has led to new courses such as “Big Data in Education”. In the coming years, big data will make student performance more easily measurable and teachers can deliver much more customized courses from the information retrieved. Big Data will correlate with other trends in education, such as m-learning and online courses.

Virtual Reality: With the appearance of virtual headsets we are just one click away from everything, may it be a distant place or a special location. Virtual reality might have great impact on the education of the future, since it has limitless potential. Positive impacts include:

  • It provides a strong emotional experience to students. What they learn this way is much better stored in their memory. It enhances motivation, because it teaches in an exciting manner. The acquisition of the material taught this way takes less time.
  • Simulations provide more efficient education experiences. In fact, any kind of human activity can be illustrated through virtual reality, for example, medical students can have a try at any simulated operations, or chemists can experiment with chemicals safely.
  • It takes less time and money because students can practice virtually (for example, driving a car or flying a plane).
  • It will be easier to get familiar with new cultures.

Augmented Reality: Augmented Reality (AR) adds artificial, computer generated objects to our perception of the real world. This technology might open up new prospects in education as students can learn in their homes, with their tutor appearing virtually. AR can create such learning environment that has been unprecedented. In the coming years, 3D elements are likely to enrich this educational trend.

Artificial Intelligence: “Just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today I actually have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don’t think AI will transform in the next several years”, Andrew Ng said. Artificial intelligence basically means a computer system that can perform equal to or better than human intelligence. Widely known examples already exist, such as Apple’s “personal assistant”, Siri, which is capable of understanding basic human language and communicate with the user. Artificial intelligence is seeping into every aspect of our life, as lot of devices have it.  The role of artificial intelligence in education goes beyond physical robots and rather means a cloud-based technology. It will greatly help tutors to work with personalised curricula, which has not yet been possible. “Assistants” with artificial intelligence can facilitate the work of tutors, by, for example, identifying struggling students, or posing new challenges to high-performers. Programs with artificial intelligence can help create new, creative tools and games. The lack of socialisation might be one of the pitfalls of learning through artificial intelligence, as students will spend an increasing amount of time with a multimedia device. Therefore, more online platforms that combine the elements of artificial intelligence and social learning will be needed.

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC ): Quality education will be accessible for everyone with internet access. MOOC is an online college level course of study with publicly shared curriculum. As a major step towards global education, it allows massive numbers of people worldwide to access a diverse range of quality content via web, which may otherwise be impossible to people. These internet-based courses give opportunities to full time employees to acquire new knowledge, while undergraduates can use MOOCs for exam preparation. The content has trended in the form of digital books, short videos, interactive content, quiz and assignments. The students can interact via message forums, facilitating learning with others. Currently, the market leader is Coursera, which offers courses from more than 100 universities to 5 million students online. The future of MOOCs may rely upon creating high quality, reputable and employer acceptable MOOC as well as an adequate curriculum and assessment system.

 3D Printers in Education: Although their price remains relatively high, it is likely that 3D printers will be available in a growing number of schools and universities. Things previously only visible in textbooks could soon be 3D-printed to be touched and played with.  This new technology could, for example, be applied in physics and math classes (modelling atoms), as well as architecture lectures at universities (designing buildings) or medical students can print and study life-size organs.  Modern classes could combine digital 3D modelling with actually creating something tangible to prepare children for new tasks that become commonplace in the future.

Personalised Learning: It involves defining the pace and strategy of the learning experience tailored to the individual’s own needs. Individualised learning is focussing on the learner and not on the general curriculum. For example, in the FlexPath program of the Capella University, students can work through material that fits best to their already acquired skillset. Moreover, the rise of assistive technology (AT) devices and services also creates opportunities to include people with disabilities, meeting the growing number of consumers with special needs. These technologies support students with writing, reading, communication, seeing, hearing, organization, problem solving, exchanging ideas, learning processes and speech recognition.

“Edutainment”: edutainment is primarily educational content with an entertaining value.  Thanks to the continuous development of technology, delivering classes this way will be more and more relevant. Classes will be enriched with audio-visual content and playful or game-like elements. Today, there are several examples of this type of education, such as Duolingo, which employs gamification, and was found to teach language learners content three times faster than traditional classrooms. Another example is represented by TED talks, which are presented in highly stylised and entertaining ways and are increasingly popular. In the future, an increasing number of such apps are expected to appear and reach new demographic groups like the elderly or people with little or no income.

Gamification: Gamification—defined as the introduction or application of elements of games into non-game contexts—is a relatively new concept but an old practice. Games, and the elements that make up games, have been incorporated into other areas of life, including education, throughout history. All games share three fundamental characteristics: they have a clearly defined set of rules; a rapid feedback system; and a well-established goal. Among the many elements that games consist of, three of particular relevance to education are: mechanical elements (incremental progression, instant feedback, goals-subgoals, quests, onboarding); personal elements (avatars, collective responsibility, and leaderboards or rankings); and emotional elements (the psychological state of flow). Gamification is expected to play a greater role in the continuously changing educational system. Information-sharing will be cheaper through digital readers and tablets, computer programs enable instant feedback, therefore students will not require so much of full teacher supervision.

According to a study by Oxford Analytica, the major milestones in the evolution of gamification include:

  • 1958 – “Tennis for Two”, the first game to use a graphical display, simulated a game of table tennis using an oscilloscope
  • 1984 – Tetris is launched
  • 1993 – Doom, a first-person shooter, is released
  • 1999 – Everquest, the first online role-playing game is released,
  • 2007 – James Paul Gee publishes his book “What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy” on what skills can be developed by video games
  • 2011- The Oxford English Dictionary adds gamification to its word of the year shortlist.
  • 2015 – Fantasy Geopolitics, a gamified website designed to encourage students to learn about the world’s news, is released
  • 2016 – Oculus Rift, the first commercial PC-based virtual reality head-mounted display, is set to be released

Lifelong Learning: Previously, the elderly were constrained in lifelong learning by the difficulty of access to educational material; but today they have access to online courses that enable them to acquire knowledge. Higher technical literacy and more user-friendly interfaces allow the elderly to engage with learning. MOOCs are increasing opportunities for adult learners. In western societies, the population is aging. Hence, this market will continuously expand in the future.  In the future, learners will have a greater opportunity to learn a wider variety of skills.

School in the Cloud

The School in the Cloud is a platform, driven by a global community, that connects Self-Organised Learning Environments. Anyone can create a SOLE—the goal of the movement is to provide more inclusive, universal education. Independent schools created this way build upon the curiosity and independent problem-solving abilities of children, in an environment that is freer than usual and by using the internet extensively. The initiative was launched by Indian-born Sugata Mitra, recognizing one of the major issues of his home country: education opportunities, which are of variable quality and often hard to access. The TED Prize professor intended to create the education of the future, which surpasses traditional methods in terms of its cloud-based nature and its approach.

The learning process takes place like this: students are given a big question or are challenged to think of their own. Students form small groups to find an answer. During a SOLE session students are free to move around, and take the discussion in any direction to find a solution, there is not one single correct answer. Towards the end of a session they have the opportunity to share what they learned with the whole group—by the end of the process, both educators and students have experienced more than in traditional, frontally delivered classes.

Robots in the Future of Education

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, launched the Virgin Disruptors programme. Its events and media coverages serve one goal: to rouse the public, break entrenched habits and switch to a solution previously regarded impossible.

The future of education, and new technologies that might determine learning methodology in a couple of decades, were also in focus. These include NAO Robots, created by Alderbaran. They are humanoid robots which can be programmed to understand and respond to you. They can act as a teacher e.g. to teach languages, or they can be used as avatars for students when they can’t be present in the classroom.

Beyond Computers

Although computers seem the most prominent educational tools in today’s education, we cannot think there will be no other technology in the future that will replace our most important device. In the future, an integrated approach to education can become dominant, which places cloud computing in focus. Holistic education differs from previous approaches in its aim to form the processes of teaching and learning into a whole, involving all aspects of life. This so-called interdisciplinary approach transforms the role of pedagogy, teachers do not have to bear the burden of being the only persons responsible for transmitting information, and students have more freedom to manage their own earning process. Cloud-based services create the technological background to organize the actors of the educational system into a network, and make learning a convenient and flexible experience. School on the Cloud (SoC) is such an initiative, connecting education to the cloud for digital citizenship network. Experiences gained so far show that the cloud promotes cost effectiveness, make the system flexible and effective enables real-time access and sharing, and mitigates the risk of obsolescence.

The World in 2050 – The Future of Global Talent

In its anthology published in 2016, Diplomatic Courier brings aspects of the labour market and young employees to the fore, thus, also in terms of education development, it focusses on today’s challenges and practical applicability. In the future, in addition to a high-level knowledge of mathematics, language arts and science, such skills and abilities will be given priority such as critical thinking, persistence, collaboration, problem-solving and curiosity.

Global Talent Mobility

Since human capital is becoming an increasingly important factor of development, the quest for talents will happen globally. The services sector, which is an important engine of job-creation, requires highly skilled youth, and it can tap into the pool of experts trained in China and India, where the education of the young population is improving.

The shortage of trained youth can be mitigated by a cooperation between governments, industries and the academic sphere, since systematic interventions in education will pay off if the real needs of businesses are considered.  Fresh graduates face a skill-gap, that is a difference between skills acquired in the educational system and those relevant to the labour market. In this respect, developed and emerging countries are addressing the same challenges. In the future, Western countries will rely more on highly skilled Chinese and Indian experts, creating large-scale global talent mobility.

Source:, pp. 34.
The Most Important Skills in 2050

Students will not be satisfied with receiving only information. They need such management skills and interdisciplinary knowledge that empower them to resolve unknown problems. Lasse Rouhiainen believes the following skills will be the most sought after by 2050: self-awareness and self-evaluation, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, empathy, cultural flexibility, passion, respecting common good, awareness, meditation, physical activity and story-telling.

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