The humble classroom looks destined to be confined to the annals of history.
I attended a meeting the other day to discuss what campus ‘learning spaces’ will look like in 25 years’ time. That’s a long time horizon and it’s extremely difficult to predict with any degree of certainty how the classroom of 2041 will function.
But I think that traditional classroom delivery will diminish significantly in the next ten years and internet-based training will take its place.
Virtual reality (VR) is set to be a big part of that transition and will transform the way that training content is delivered to students. Equipped with special goggles, VR creates a 100% virtual, three-dimensional environment for the user to operate in, as if it were real.
In coming years, virtual reality goggles, headsets and other wearable devices (eg. Apple’s new wireless earpieces) will be commonplace and provide a means to deliver fully-immersive virtual instruction to students.
In fact, a student could be virtually placed within a classroom setting without leaving the comfort of their own home (although I suspect that VR will spawn much more impressive applications than this).
Ubiquitous high-speed internet, real-time video conferencing, online collaboration tools and VR will mean that students will no longer need to gather at a single location to undergo training or to interact with teachers and students. More and more training will be delivered ‘remotely’, both in real-time and in pre-recorded formats.
In order to deliver effective remote training, institutions need to develop great software, online systems, and digital content. This software needs to be location-agnostic (ie cloud hosted, accessible via the internet) and device-agnostic (ie. accessible on any device via a web browser). I think that there needs to be a bias towards investing in software, rather than investing in fixed infrastructure and hardware. The latter is expensive; takes up much-needed physical space; requires expensive maintenance and support; and is quickly rendered obsolete with the passage of time.
A Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy is an appropriate model for training institutions. It removes the requirement for significant investment in fixed computer infrastructure and pushes the responsibility for hardware to the end-user.
For those students that do not have the means to BYOD, many educational institutions around the world are now issuing low-cost computing devices to students. In the US, many schools issue sub-$200 Chromebooks to their students. These are simple laptops that can be centrally managed and allow the student to work with cloud applications via the Chrome browser.
When considering the classroom of the future, it’s also important to understand that educational curricula will need to change significantly over the coming decade. Automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, etc. will have a profound effect on many of our industries and the job landscape. In fact, some courses that are taught now in training institutions may be redundant in a decade’s time. A video that I came across this morning lends weight to that view – bricklayers are on notice.
So what does this mean for campuses and learning spaces of the future?
- The campus or physical training institution will become the central node in a distributed learning network
- The campus will need to partner with other government agencies, commercial firms and industry bodies to form a concentrated hub of learning and innovation
- Physical learning spaces in the campus will need to be open, multi-use, adaptable and flexible; they should be minimalist from a fixed infrastructure point of view.
- There will be no requirement for fixed PCs or workstations. These will quickly become obsolete; they take up significant space; they detract from modern architecture and design; and they are costly to maintain and support.
- A very high-speed internet broadband ‘backbone’ is critical.
- Ubiquitous, highest-speed wi-fi accessibility throughout the campus is critical. Preferably, unsecured and without data limits, enabling unfettered access.
- There will be no need for thousands of LAN ethernet ports, as cables are on the way out (eg. the new iPhone and its lack of a headphone jack) and wi-fi technology will provide comparable speeds to fixed internet
- Whilst traditional classroom training will mostly be delivered electronically, collaboration spaces will be required for group work. These will need to be equipped with appropriate shared digital infrastructure – eg. large digital displays for ‘casting’, video-conferencing and presentations