“I think the goal of education is to learn about the world and different types of knowledge, [to] find what your passion or passions are, and to learn by doing. Get involved with the world and try to change the world.”
—Ray Kurzweil, Co-Founder and Chancellor, Singularity University
At Singularity University, we envision a world where everyone has access to information, environments, and experiences that can build intelligence, knowledge, and skills for all people at all stages of their lives, both for personal fulfillment and to benefit society.
Close your eyes and imagine what the future of learning might look like. Is it possible that instead of children going to school, the schools follow them wherever they go? Think about what happens if future students and teachers are one and the same, interchangeably student and teacher.
But first, in order for us to explore what the future of learning might be, we must examine what our education system looks like today, and then we’ll identify some key trends and share great examples of how exponential technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality are impacting learning.
In the last century, humanity has made great strides in improving access to education for all children. More than 91 percent of the world’s children now attend primary school, but that still leaves 57 million children without access to learning. We have a long road ahead of us if we are to reimagine the future state of education. Today’s most pressing challenges in learning include improving the quality of education and ensuring every child gets an education.
Education quality varies widely in different locations around the world. This quality difference stems from any number of factors, including poorly trained teachers and administrators, under-resourced infrastructure, and outdated rote-based curricula that do not teach skills relevant to today’s economies. And depending on the location, socio-economic problems can often interfere with learning—problems ranging from child malnourishment and illness to mental health issues, violence, and the caregivers’ inability to pay school fees.
Most children who don’t attend school live in Sub-Saharan Africa, conflicted or war zones, and rural areas without transportation. Children not attending school might also face additional challenges, such as having disabilities or being female in locations where girls have more restrictions than boys.
In a world of dramatic, accelerating technological and economic change, we all may face a future of rapidly changing jobs. This relentless pace of change is increasingly demanding lifelong learning to supplement our formal education. We will therefore need to be flexible in terms of how we meet our basic needs while finding stimulation and purpose in our learning and work.
“By the time they’re in the ninth or tenth grade, kids lose a lot of their creativity, because the main thing they’re worried about is getting an A. Creativity comes when you are doing something that you actually think of, and it doesn’t necessarily have to get an A grade. And that creativity ignites the passion and the interest and then they have that…for the rest of their lives.”
– Dr. Esther Wojcicki, Education and Learning Faculty at Singularity University
We’ve had the same industrialized education system for decades, and it’s clear that challenges have continued to become more extreme with each new generation of children. There are severe limitations that anchor the potential of our education system—like grading, subject material, and cognitive and developmental restrictions. The way we deliver education is often demotivating and can set children up for failure from the start. Let’s look at some key challenges facing our current education system.
In the traditional education system, students’ grades begin at the highest level and are marked down for any mistakes made. At best, it’s demotivating. At worst, it has nothing to do with the way the world works for adults. Maybe we need to take a lesson from the world of gaming, where you start at zero and earn points for everything you do successfully.
Most classrooms have a teacher up in front of a room lecturing to students, which can create confusion and boredom for many students. The one-teacher-fits-all model comes from an era of scarcity, when great teachers and schools were rare. Class size and student-teacher ratios further complicate this old-school approach (pun intended!).
How much of what children learn in elementary and high school is useful to them later? Current subject matter often leaves much to be desired when it comes to critical life lessons that any child must experience to successfully navigate adulthood. Students need to develop an aptitude for critical thinking and strong communication and collaboration skills, and today’s content (and the practice of teaching to tests) often falls short.
Industrialized educational programs have so much structure, rote memorization, and analytical learning that the opportunity for creativity is squashed before it can fully develop. Where do we foster imagination?
If learning in school is a chore, boring, or emotionless, then students will tend to be disengaged. Every day, an average of 7,200 students drop out of high school, adding up to 1.3 million each year. This means only 69 percent of students who start high school will finish four years later. And more than 50 percent of these high school dropouts cite boredom as the main reason they left.
“Bottom line, how we educate our kids needs to radically change given the massive potential of exponential technologies, like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.”
– Peter H. Diamandis, MD, Executive Founder and Director, Singularity University
For decades, innovators have looked to use technology to both broaden access to learning and improve the way it is synthesized. With the arrival of the household computer and easy access to the internet, some schools and universities began recording classes and making them available to anyone online.
As it became easier and cheaper to build interactive websites, educational content became more dynamic and sophisticated. Organizations like One Laptop Per Child, formed in 2005, saw the potential for affordable education for all and began distributing laptops and internet access.
While many were critical of this effort for its clunkiness, it would later come to be viewed as an early attempt at digitizing education. Pioneering companies like One Laptop Per Child contributed to a strong EdTech foundation and infrastructure, paving the way for more sophisticated attempts.
The arrival of cheap computer devices and an open content market proved to be a key breakthrough in educational accessibility, giving anyone the ability to create content. This open technology unleashed a new wave of educational technology startups, video games for learning, and schools with digitized curricula.
Education has looked almost the same for over a century. To many, that system has become outdated. In efforts across the world, innovators work to improve and possibly transform education for all by incorporating new ways of learning and exponential technologies into education. These learning experiments can become successful and become a learning trend affecting millions.
Teachers have found it impactful to incorporate short bursts of learning on different topics throughout the day. Bite-sized learning is delivered in brief interactive sessions, ensuring the learner’s attention is not lost. This micro-learning format can reduce the need to learn big sets of information at once, while lessening the stress which tends to accompany that type of effort.
Classrooms focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) have worked well over the past decades, but creative people are needed now more than ever. Educators have found that creativity is vital to our learning process and the way we express ourselves as humans. Learning about the creative arts is gaining popularity, and so now is back in some curricula. Even more, many companies have begun to give credit to creativity, even going so far as to list it as a desired trait in their recruiting efforts.
Leaders in education have started to reach children through new ways of teaching, such as simulated learning, educational games, and even edutainment (educational entertainment). Simulated learning experiences put the student inside the learning. For example, RoomQuake scales a regular classroom into an earthquake simulation. Educational games and edutainment learning methods offer students the chance to get out of the book and into an experience, opening up opportunities for valuable teaching moments. Additionally, this approach gives learners ample opportunity to develop real-world skills, such as working collaboratively and essential time and task management skills.
Some education experts predict that classrooms of the past century will soon go by the wayside, in favor of more individualized learning. With the freedom that comes from not being locked down by device, location, or time of day, people can learn at their own pace. Self-paced learning not only gives fast learners an edge but can also highlight learning challenges more quickly. Programs and courses that cater to specific learning challenges like ADHD and Dyslexia are providing learners with the tools they need to learn on par with others in their age range.
Although online education has gone through some transformation, it has been available via the internet for decades. Online classes are easily accessible for any person with internet access, whether that be through computers, tablets, phones, or smart devices. This opens up opportunities for learning on internet platforms that teach people using video tutorials and visual learning methods.
From a bird’s-eye view, emerging technologies in education can appear volatile, but this exploration and discovery can close important gaps in access to and quality of education. Leading educators have taken the first steps toward teaching with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain in order to guide students’ educational journeys. Other educational innovators have focused on making education more engaging and appealing through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). And some leaders are exploring the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) to offer more streamlined communications to students and parents in real-time.
Singularity University proudly supports startups across the world that demonstrate using exponential technologies like AI, AR, VR, and others to improve education. Let’s look at two startups founded by SU alumni that continue to dramatically improve education.
In Myanmar, more than 90 percent of students were learning from textbooks that had not been updated in more than 30 years, and the educational focus was on memorized learning. The government considered sending the curriculum on DVDs to the schools—but this was impossible because more than 70 percent of the schools lacked reliable electricity. Enter 360ed, which applied exponential technology to improve Myanmar’s educational system.
360ed digitized the curriculum and put it into AR applications. These new tech tools engaged the students and were cheap enough to easily update with new materials. In the first months after this AR curriculum release, more than 7,000 classrooms bought the applications, effectively leapfrogging the old school system. Additionally, 360ed created VR experiences digitally teleported teachers to classrooms around the world, training them in 21st-century student-centered environments—quite the opposite of the rote systems of the past.
Led by a group of young Myanmar educators, in collaboration with four technical universities, 360ed seeks to transform from one of the worst educational systems in the world to one of the best. The venture is truly distinguished by its tools, which are built with the input of both teachers and students, and it now has a contract to serve 1.3 million children.
Estimates are that 250 million children will be living in Africa by 2050, yet 171 million of today’s children lack the necessary skills to read and count. Kukua is a startup with the mission to use emerging technologies to put education back in the hands of the children of Africa by creating “magical learning experiences” to engage them.
Kukua created a curriculum with published books and classroom materials for schools; a television show that inspires children to learn science, technology, engineering, and math; mobile and tablet apps that have game-based learning; and online content with learning media and songs—all with the purpose of teaching children how to read.
Imagine a world where instructors no longer teach to test scores but instead reward students for solving real-life problems. Envision a reality where learning and education could happen anywhere and with anyone, and where adults can learn just as fluidly as children do.
Successful curricula focus on developing critical survival skills, like leading by influence and nurturing such skills as agility, adaptability, initiative, entrepreneurship, effective communication, critical thinking, analysis, curiosity, and imagination.
At SU, we encourage the application of exponential technologies to help all children and adults make sound, informed decisions based on problem-solving, creativity, digital citizenship, media, and collaboration across networks. In the schools of the future, we hope to see increased applications of technology to stimulate learning, such as AI-driven learning concierges, blockchain credentialing, multiple learning pathways, micro-courses, VR- and AR-based immersive environments, learning playlists focused on individual interests, and the use of nootropics.
Watch Singularity University Co-Founder and Chancellor Ray Kurzweil talk about why traditional education is failing our students, who should learn by doing and follow their passions instead.
At Singularity University, we aim to offer unparalleled programming that explores the furthest reaches of technology and innovation in learning. In 2019, we convened our Faculty, staff, alumni, startups, mentors, and community members to engage in a Science Fiction Design Intelligence Workshop (SciFi DI). It was a collaborative effort to tip the world toward a trajectory of solving global learning challenges.
More than 50 attendees came together to envision positive futures of learning and identify the next steps we need to get there. During this event, attendees explored current breakthroughs in educational technology and envisioned the future of learning fifteen years into the future.
Get an inside look at the workshop SU conducted in Silicon Valley, where 50 innovators gathered to explore trends in exponential technologies, examine the latest in augmented reality and virtual reality, and discuss the future of learning and work, and more. See how the workshop led to an examination of the state of our global education system and from there served as the inspiration for a graphic novel that lets readers become immersed in an exponential future where the learning global grand challenge has been addressed successfully.
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