The future of education: Technology enables self-directed learning

Image: Public Domain
France in the year 2000, an illustration from either 1901 or 1910 depicting the future of learning. Someday we may have it this easy, but until then there are still a lot of great technological solutions for education.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

The future of education is currently a national debate in Congress, with ongoing discussions of a host of issues concerning what are the best pathways of learning for our diverse populations.

A core principle of educators is learner-centered methods that ideally offer choices that extend in a range from home-schooling by a parent to a global classroom with 14,000 or more in attendance online around the world.

Lifelong Learning combined with the technologies of Distance Learning is on a fast track to the future.

As a college teacher with over 60 years in academia, there is value in reviewing how far education has advanced by looking at three time periods in my time in a classroom.

At the beginning, my role was at the podium, teaching four nights a week in evening classes for active duty service personnel during off-duty times offered by University of Maryland in Germany.

Later at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco, I looked over the shoulders of university students from Berkeley, North Dakota, and Colorado, while mentoring students in field placements that provided hands-on services as a mirror clinic to their future settings in human care programs.

Lastly, while facilitating an honors class in Global Education that studied Indigenous Peoples, I sat in a half circle of students facing a large digital screen and talked with Tribal (Sámi) leaders in north Norway, high mountain tribes in South America, and several American Indian communities in North America.

Technologies are driving the future of education, as illustrated, and economic factors play a vital role in finding ways to offer school choice with vouchers for alternative education.

Alternative education includes charter schools, private and faith-based schools, home-based schooling, and even virtual education.

When I audited a class in Digital Humanities at the University of North Dakota in 2014 in a high-tech classroom along with a dozen campus students and an instructor, my study partner in a simultaneous online class was in Kansas City. With my student ID card, the registrar told me that I was the oldest registered freshman on campus.

The quality of public education is under scrutiny because of its tie to economics—because schools are funded so much by property taxes, lower income families generally have limited choices. Conversely, with greater financial resources available, including student loans, some students can join a “club” of prestigious degree holders, ending up with huge burdensome debt for years.

Technology, though, is the great equalizer of economic segregation. A trend is emerging from the private sector, originally in Silicon Valley, to offer free competency-based learning to vast numbers of students online.

The concept is essentially that the necessity of knowledge is focused on the competency needed to advance a learner into the job market. Certificate-oriented rather than degree-attaining, the project is called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), and major universities are promoting programs that have global reach online in a variety of offerings.

Top universities, such as Stanford, UC Berkeley, MIT, Duke, Harvard, UCLA, and Yale offer MOOC courses. The New York Times reports that the website consolidates courses of three other universities that have 100,000 students enrolled—some free and some for a few dollars. Courses are led by senior faculty or experts in the field.

My favorite for self-directed learning is the image of a digital screen or device in the kitchen that illuminates a virtual teacher with whom I interact for learning, while I have a cup of coffee and munch on some chips and dip.

Who knows where the future of education will lead us, but we are on the cusp of change, as they say.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.