Imagine a world of universally low-cost higher education. A world in which a student can choose one fully-accredited module from Stanford University, another from MIT and a third from Cambridge, each involving regular field trips to different world continents at no extra cost. Imagine a personalised programme of learning designed in the knowledge that this student loves to read but finds traditional lectures pretty tedious.
According to educational experts I interviewed at this year's EdTechX Europe event on behalf of EdTech Media, this vision could soon become a reality. With concerns over unaffordable tuition fees and unsustainable debt (together with the news that Leeds University will be the first to offer a fully accredited Mooc course), many predict that higher education will soon evolve beyond recognition. This means that baby Jack, who is currently three months old, will experience higher education very differently from his parents.
Sattya V. Nitta, Global Head and Program Director of Cognitive Science and Education at IBM, predicts that Jack will enjoy a highly customised, technologically-assisted university experience and that Massive Online Open Courses (Moocs) will be the most significant game changer.
'A student turning eighteen in 2034 will be able to study a mix and match degree at a very low personal cost through the provision of Moocs' explains Nitta 'Artificial intelligence will also personalise the delivery of learning to account for cognitive and emotional needs'.
While Nitta is quick to explain that machines will be used to supplement, rather than replace, Jack's human teachers, it's worth bearing in mind that the modern school already incorporates an impressive level of technology that Jack and his classmates will probably take for granted.
With twenty-four hour schools, remote access learning and specialist maths tutors Skyped in from Bangladesh, education is already changing to accommodate students of the information age. Many classrooms have become unrecognisable to anyone born before 1995 and images of front-facing students filed in factory lines have become as anachronistic as the blackboard.
Jack's parents might be surprised to learn that the modern classroom - light, airy and flexibly arranged - is more GooglePlex than Victorian schoolroom. Designed for creative collaboration, Jack's learning space reflects the increasingly interconnected world that he inhabits. From Wikipedia for homework to Schoology for classwork, it's likely that Jack's learning will involve a host of web 2.0 tools, as well as interactive, immersive learning experiences that we cannot yet even imagine.
Google's Jonathan Rochelle explains that children can now take field trips anywhere from Machu Picchu to the surface of the moon using cardboard technology and Google Expeditions. While virtual Reality (VR) technology has long been used for vocational training, it's predicted that VR will eventually evolve to the extent that it will become more normal for students to study through active exploration than a traditional textbook.
Adaptable and technologically sophisticated, it goes without saying that Jack's generation would sooner Google the President of China than copy the name from a board. For these students, the teacher is no longer the gatekeeper of all knowledge and many prefer to learn from each other at a pace that suits them.
'We are moving towards a pay-as-you-go-world and higher education is becoming more flexible'. says Matt Walton, Head of Product at FutureLearn 'We will see many changes and social learning will become a massive part of education in the future'.
Walton predicts that students of 2034 will build a portfolio of achievements through a combination of online and face-to-face learning, sharing Nitta's view that university will become scalable and more affordable. So Jack should enjoy a wider selection of learning modules while escaping the debt faced by today's students.
'Traditional education is costly, inconvenient and you have to travel' points out Walton 'Moocs will increase social mobility and bring together a community of learning'.
Since it's expected that everyone will have internet access by 2034, a baby born across the world into an impoverished household in rural Pakistan will be able to study alongside Jack and receive the same accreditation. Plus, with the rise of flexible, part-time, work-related learning, it's likely that degree courses will comprise many more learners of different ages and life stages.
All things considered, dramatic changes to the university system seem inevitable. With the development of increasingly sophisticated blended learning methods, virtual reality technologies, social tools, analytics, artificial intelligence and, of course, MOOC provision, it seems likely that edtech will overhaul the higher education system as we know it.