Saturday, May 29, 2010

The BIG Answer - Maybe!

The Learning Circuits Blog's Big Question of the Month for May is “What will workplace learning technology look like in 2015?”
Accurately predicting the future is a skill I wish I could have. If I knew that the stock market was going to do or the outcome of a sporting event, I could be writing this blog post from a Caribbean island. Trying to predict technological future is even more difficult.  Using todays' technology to predict the future is not the right approach as seen in a 1949 article in Popular Mechanics - "where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons".  Even people in the know have difficulties predicting the future of technology. In 1977, Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corporation, a manufacturer of mainframe computers said "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home".

Would anyone have predicted that Google would be bigger than Yahoo, the social media boom, and that Apple would overtake Microsoft in market capitalization. The theory of technological singularity speaks to the notion that the progress of technology will become extremely fast, and consequently, will make the future unpredictable and qualitatively different from today. This unpredictability  is compounded by Buckminster Fuller’s 1982 theory of the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”:
  • The more we know, the faster we know more. 
  • Knowledge volume undergoes exponential growth, doubling and redoubling over time.
  • Up until the 1900, it was said that the accumulation of knowledge doubled every century.
  • In 1945, it was said that the accumulation of knowledge doubled every 25 years.

Today, depending on the scientific realm, knowledge double anywhere from 1 to 2 years (nanotechnology knowledge doubles every 2 years, clinical knowledge doubles every 1.5 years). IBM has predicted that, in the next few years, information will double every 11 hours!
Five years does not seems like a very long time but in terms of technology, it is eons. After saying that it is nearly impossible to predict the future of technology, I'm going to go out on a limit and put forward some ideas of where I see e-learning technologies heading:

  1. Learning Management Systems. LMS's will be gone. The term itself is too confining to the nature of the industry and the direction learning is going. LMS's try to centered the learning on its software. Learning cannot be confined to a single place. Learning takes place on several plains and in many domains. Unless LMS software recognizes that and alters its paradigm, LMS's will not be an effective tool in e-education and will be extinct within 5 years.
  2. Mobile learning. This technology has been hard to work with and expensive for the student because of high usage costs. I believe that widely accessible free WiFi as well as evolving technologies that communicate with wireless devices will make learning on the go, affordable, fun and will allow the student to customize their learning to match their lifestyle.
  3. 3D environments and scenario-based training. This type of e-learning will be made possible as the Internet has moved from Web 1.0 (producer-generated content) to Web 2.0 ( user-generated content) to Web 3.0  (system-generated content). Also, with computers becoming more and more powerful, the technology to render a 3D Internet and 3D world is becoming more accessible.  Students will be be placed in possible career-based scenarios and act out the situation with computer simulated players. I'm not referring to the Second Life type of world full of cartoon avatars, I'm referring to a virtual world closer to the Holodeck of the Star Trek TV series.

I'm probably wrong although this have been a fun exercise. As I continue to be a technology-watcher and an educator, it will be fascinating to observe the continuing evolution of e-learning technologies. No matter where the future of e-learning technologies take us, it will be exciting times. Being involved in these two industries has been very exhilarating, and  although I know I cannot predict the future, I think that one way to develop the future e-learning technology is to participate in its presence.

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