Monday, April 25, 2011

How Will This Play Out?

I thought I would wrap up this rant on teachers and distance education by laying out what I see as happening over the next few decades. First, I should mention that there is a fair amount of history behind this effort and I am only picking it up in the middle of its evolution. Back before computers we had a concept called Programmed Instruction which I felt had a great deal of merit. That gave way to Computer Aided Instruction which, in turn, gave way to Distance Education.

Currently, most distance education uses a web based delivery system such a Moodle or Blackboard which allows an instructor to put things online for students to access via the Web. This is a big improvement because it removes the co-location requirement from education. That is, you don't need to have the teacher and the student in he same room in order to provide education. At the same time, these tools can only be described as inadequate and barbaric. As a matter of perspective, I would compare this to the early days of the Web when web pages were created by entering HTML tags into a text editor. 

Following this analogy further, we can see the next generation of tools as analogous to the web page editors that came out in the late 1990's. Tools like Frontpage and Macromedia made the authoring of web pages easier and allowed page designers to focus on the creative aspects of the things they were trying to create rather than the tedious technical aspects. I think we will see similar advances in authoring tools for course ware. Currently, there is a hodge podge of tools such as Camtasia, Audacity, and Powerpoint that allow a course designer to think a little more creatively about course design. Nonetheless, there is a long way to go and I see the next generation of educational software as focusing on support for course authors. I should mention that I also believe that delivery mechanisms will improve. But it is the authoring support that will require a bit of a leap.

Once, authoring tools have been advanced I see yet another major advance in support of the manufacturing of education and that is the exploitation of video game technology.  We have a lot to learn from video games and education can be made much more effective and much more enjoyable.

I am usually much better at predicting what will happen than I am at predicting when it will happen.  This is because predicting what will happen only requires finding a pattern in the trajectory from the past to the present to the future. But when things will happen is trickier because that often relies on the convergence of unpredictable events. Nonetheless, if I had to place a time frame on this I would say that the advances in authoring tools will happen over the next decade while the exploitation of video game technology will occur in the following decade. Once we have these technologies in the mainstream, I doubt that it will take more than one additional decade to completely convert the educational systems from a teacher based system to a system that manufactures education.

No comments: