The future post-secondary education ecosystem is likely to be both strikingly similar and utterly unrecognizable to what we see, learn from, teach in, and advocate for today. Bootcamp-university hybrids, algorithm-driven space-sharing agreements, discipline-specific micro-schools, AI-driven instruction/courses, and perhaps most noticeable and widespread, new ways of validating the knowledge and/or skills such an ecosystem is meant to provide. This ecosystem will still be an evolving landscape rife with legacy systems, slow-rotting infrastructural computer code, and all-too-familiar conversations regarding how we will prepare future generations for the ever-changing technological revolution looming just over the horizon. History after all, does tend to repeat itself.
The future student (and parents) will no longer envision a single linear educational path from pre-school to post-doc, and instead, will respond to an ever-evolving, nonlinear path, dynamically carved by cognified machines and smart new personally-responsive peripherals. While foundational soft-skills will still be valued and taught, nearly all educational enterprises focused on information transfer will have evaporated in the wake of increasingly complex cybernetics and biodigital interfaces. If they aren’t already, near-future students will quite literally be cyborgs.
The evolved internet and social structures will further fragment an education ecosystem already being stressed and reshaped by a host of technological and political waves, if not full tsunamis. While the majority of humans will have physically relocated to major cities, becoming more centralized, the educational ecosystem will have become proportionally de-centralized. Online courses and virtual instruction will have become the dominant fabric of this new landscape. As our Personal Smart Avatars (PSAs) evolve to understand our innate interest and abilities (likely stabilizing as we enter our early teens), they will suggest and structured educational pathways uniquely tailored to each and every lifelong learner; pathways that will be as numerous and varied as the PSAs crafting them.
This increasingly fragmented education ecosystem and equally fragmented and unpredictable job market, combined with growing social inequality and economic polarization, will give rise to a variety of new ways in which learning is tracked and valued. The days of students following a linear path to earn a degree at a single institution will be viewed as archaic. New models, enabled by new technologies like the blockchain and artificial intelligence, will arise to bring new and unpredictable opportunity to future students.
Within this new decentralized ecosystem, students will be empowered and free to leverage a host of new applications that bring added value to the granular knowledge and skills that used to get lost on the way to a single four-year degree. As PSAs iteratively evolve and curate tailored, evolving individualized education paths, the need for equitable solutions that respond to those changes will become both necessary and valuable.
The inherent trust and subsequent adoption of blockchain-based systems will represent the foundation for this suite of new applications. Students will own their learning, not institutions. As the future student meets specific learning objectives or demonstrates specific competencies (whether through a major university, community college, bootcamp, or online tutorial) an immutable, student-owned ledger of progress will be instantaneously verified and updated. This evolving and flexible map of learning will then be connected to a host of secondary applications that will interpret the stacks of skills/knowledge and recommend, or act as justification for, specific employment opportunities within unique sectors of the gig-economy. The days of assembly lines and factory jobs are all but over, and it’s incumbent upon all of us to acknowledge and help actualize an educational ecosystem responsive to this inevitable future.
Employers will be less interested in MBAs and PhDs and more interested in the uniquely-qualified student and blockchain-backed algorithm that positioned them as the perfect candidate. Traditionally disadvantaged students and low-income families will discover a renewed hope in higher education. The landscape will be viewed as a dynamic addition to lifelong growth, as opposed to a debt-inducing gamble likely to lead to generational disadvantages. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the future student was empowered by the tail-end of a technological wave that created the debt crisis in the first place?