We talked and read a lot this week about what the future of higher education might look like. We also talked about what our own future of teaching will look like based on what we learned in this class. Since I don’t currently have a teaching practice to modify, it’s hard for me to say what I’ll do differently, but I do feel that I have quite an arsenal of tools at my disposal now. I don’t think there is much doubt that the future of higher education will be changed by technology, but the question is how and to what extent will technology change it? A recent study from the Pew Research Center echoed this sentiment:
Tech experts believe market factors will push universities to expand online courses, create hybrid learning spaces, move toward ‘lifelong learning’ models and different credentialing structures by the year 2020. But they disagree about how these whirlwind forces will influence education, for the better or the worse.
Two parts of this finding that I really like are hybrid learning spaces and ‘lifelong learning’. Being back in class this past week solidified my (current) preference for a hybrid construction for classes. Our four-week online module proved to me how much I can learn in an online environment and how much collaboration can exist without being face-to-face. However, nothing in those four weeks came close to the rush I felt after two and a half hours of discussion in class on Tuesday and Thursday night. Maybe that kind of lively discussion can take place on a wiki or in a Google hang out, but I haven’t experienced it yet. It is that peer-to-peer interaction that, for me, defines my graduate education experience. It’s realizing that when I walk into a room at the beginning of the semester, I am meeting, or more often now re-connecting with, a room full of instructors from whom I will gain contextual learning from perspectives I never imagined — nurse, doctor, army officer, corporate executive, academic staffer, teacher, community activist, IT guru… the list goes on and on. This semester may have demonstrated for me how the teaching and cognitive presences work online, but I am still struggling with replicating the social aspect I get in a face-to-face class.
The second part of that opening quote from the Pew report that resonates with me is the trend toward lifelong learning. When I enrolled in this masters program in 2010, that’s actually what I set out to become — a lifetime learner. This is where I definitely see technology and the internet continuing to play a major role in my education, coupled with my understanding of connectivity as a learning theory. I have long understood the idea of networking in my professional life, and now I am beginning to build another network, or rather a tangent off that professional network, that includes some of the same people, but also includes people I’ve never met and resources I have yet to investigate fully. I have deepened and broadened my online presence and have started to understand these networking tools in a whole new, educational light. Some of my new favorites, like Twitter and Pinterest, didn’t even exist 5 years ago, which makes me excited to think that my favorite and most valuable networking tool might be on the horizon, even though I cannot image what it will be.
For me, this is what the future holds… the anticipation of the next new technology, the next new connection. By being a lifelong learner, you are open to unlearning what you know in favor of learning something you can’t even imagine now. And yet, it’s not just about the technology. As a would-be educator, I will need to understand how technology can be used to excite the learner to want to learn… and want to learn more… and how technology can make it easier for them to access the information they seek or share the knowledge they have.
In order to be successful in lifelong learning, I will need to remember there is no “I” in learner. I started to come to this realization earlier in the program when I took “Groups & Teams.”
Surely at this point in my life I had all the skills I needed in order to learn. What I wasn’t taking into account, however, was that when you learn as a team, you get more context and meaning behind the terms and ideas. You start to understand them from a number of perspectives, and that can increase the likelihood that you’ll retain that information and be able to apply it in more ways than just the situations you are familiar with yourself. …Thanks to the Fab Four, I no longer feel learning has to be an individual endeavor.
I believe this will be the future of eLearning… facilitating the connections between people and information. Technology will provide the tools to foster connectivity and communication, but people will be responsible for creating learning. Technology will never replace teachers because we, as learners, are ourselves teachers, too.