Thursday, March 13, 2014

Digital futures

As the World Wide Web turns 25 years old, common themes are beginning to emerge about the impact it has made, and continues to make, on global society. Tyler Falk (2014) highlights 15 predictions for the digital future, based on the findings from the Pew Research Internet Project (Anderson & Rainie, 2014), many of which show the massive implications for learning and education that stem from the presence of internet technology. In particular, the pervasive connectivity will threaten the existing business models employed by education establishments and publishers.

A global learning environment

Having the right information to hand at the right moment is crucial to learning - whether it's for a teacher explaining a new concept to a student, or having a timely reminder available as a new task is attempted. The seamless connectivity that is growing across the internet, and the availability of convenient devices to access it from, is lowering the cost of learning transactions everywhere. Disruptive movements are on the rise that take advantage of this ability to share information and ideas without the normal barriers of time and distance, exemplified by the Khan Academy and MOOCs.

How will this affect the traditional education establishments? Some of the respondents in the survey predict less spending on real estate and teachers - does this mark the demise of traditional education and educators, or an opportunity to adopt networked pedagogy to make our existing structure more powerful by adopting models of networked pedagogy (Wheeler, 2014)? Organisations will have to adapt too, learning to deal with bad acting and replace current norms with newer ones more appropriate for a digital age. Regardless of the final outcome, expect the technology to be continuously operating in the background, woven into the fabric of everything we do, as leaders chase the dream of 'a more informed and more educated world population'.

Social evolution

The rise of networks and their disruptive effect on society has been a subject of interest from many authors since the creation of the World Wide Web. Weinberger et al. (1999) put forward the Cluetrain Manifesto as a stark 
warning to corporations - the markets that they were used to dominating were rapidly becoming smarter than any corporate policies could keep up with. Corporate lifespans continue to deteriorate - the average lifespan of leading companies in the US is now just 15 years (Gittleson, 2012). This disruptive effect on the existing social order also echoes the model for social evolution put forward by Ronfeldt (1996, 2012), whereby the addition of a new form of organisation will subvert the existing structure before the full benefits are realised.

The ultimate form of the 'network' is a matter for ongoing discussion, as many people have their own definitions of what constitutes a network - it is likely that they will continue to be characterised largely by the disruptive influence that they exhibit, and the inability of our existing structures to adapt, rather than by specific organisational structures. As Nishant Shah observes 'It is not merely a tool of enforcing existing structures; it is a structural change in the systems we are used to'.

Persistence of time

From all the potential positive and negative impacts, one factor that may have the most powerful effect on education is the ability to create persistent institutions for the long term, as observed by Jerry Michalski. Moving to systems based on trust, rather than distrust, will be the crucial factor for creating a better education system - our present organisations lack the ability to overcome the minority who wish to harm others, but a system based on trust holds the promise to reverse this trend. The last thesis on the list holds the key here: The best way to predict the future is to invent it'.