Advances in technology continue to change the way we live, earn a living and learn. These shifts affect not only the types of courses that college students take, but also may soon alter the very capacity of our brains’ abilities to create and store memories. The story of how technology affects the way we live and learn is one that is still being written, but we’re excited to track the ways in which the future is already happening — in our classrooms and in our minds.
Distance Learning, Online Learning
According to a 2017 study, 30% of all enrolled higher education students take at least one distance learning course. Distance learning refers to any courses that take place fully in an online space with no in-person meetings or class requirements. Distance learning classes typically feature a blend of learning approaches, some traditional and some more innovative.
One innovative approach that’s being used in both distance learning courses as well as in-person courses is commonly referred to as online learning. Unlike distance learning, online learning does not necessarily happen far from the classroom walls; rather, online learning refers to a blended learning strategy that incorporates online learning tools into the classroom experience.
Online learning allows students to learn in a broader range of styles instead of simply sitting and listening to an instructor. It’s also the form of learning that is conducive to the advancements being made in artificial intelligence, and is arguably more effective for the needs of our modern workplace. But there are new challenges that come along with new approaches as well.
The Robots Are Taking Over…Our Brains?
As a recent WIRED article explored, some educators view tech tools in the classroom as a means of “cheating,” while others see that the very nature of learning has begun to evolve. The piece quotes David Helfand, a professor of astronomy at Columbia University, who puts it thusly: “The notion of education as a transfer of information from experts to novices — and asking the novices to repeat that information, regurgitate it on command as proof that they have learned it — is completely disconnected from the reality of 2017.”
This means that typical tasks associated with teaching and learning — like studying and memorizing information — have nearly become outdated thanks to the technological tools at our disposal. Today’s learners are able to outsource basic thinking tasks to tools like Wolfram|Alpha, a form of AI that uses language processing systems and a constantly expanding library of data sets to offer highly specific answers to typed user questions. And this just may be the beginning: Scientists have already begun to experiment with the use of embedded technology in our very brains to enhance our ability to create and store memories, which opens up questions about the possibilities of greater brain-tech connections impacting our need for time in the classroom.
So, what does the reality of the future actually look like, and how will that affect how students learn? According to some tech experts and scientists, technology may begin to play a much larger role in our ability to process and store information, and this could happen much faster than you might think.
A recent webinar presented by Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, revealed some startling predictions about AI and the brain. According to Kurzweil, “In the 2030s, we are going to send nano-robots into the brain (via capillaries) that will provide full immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system and will connect our neocortex to the cloud. Just like how we can wirelessly expand the power of our smartphones 10,000-fold in the cloud today, we’ll be able to expand our neocortex in the cloud.”
If this sounds like science fiction, think again. Kurzweil has long published scholarly articles and books about his predictions regarding the pace of technological change, and the accuracy of his predictions regarding cloud computing, wearable technology and the breadth of the world wide web have been widely reported. Already, several entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk(Tesla, SpaceX) and Bryan Johnson (Kernel) are working to develop technological tools to connect our brains to computers for a range of purposes, including faster processing time and a greater capacity to fight neurological diseases. And researcher Mikhail Lebedev has worked to amass a growing body of research on the technological “augmentation of brain function.” To put it simply: The future is now, and our brains are the next frontier for tech’s impact on our lives.
Changing Technology, Changing Marketplace
A totally wired future might be closer than we could even imagine, but we don’t need to look too far afield to see the impact of technology, including AI, in our daily lives, classrooms and workplaces. As more and more industries continue to automate, the very nature of work is beginning to change. More front-line jobs are being replaced with automated workers, but the need for more advanced thinking around how to manage and synthesize AI in the workplace is also growing.
To best equip tomorrow’s leaders, we must provide students with technologically rich, dynamic learning tools that emphasize critical thinking and innovative problem-solving skills. In other words, we must prepare our brains to not just compete with technology but to coexist with it so that we can collectively move forward into an unprecedented and exciting shared future. This will ultimately impact when and how we are traditionally educated and how we’ll transfer and apply that knowledge in the workplace.
This article originally appeared in Forbes Community Voice™ on Aug. 7th, 2017.