A Vision of Future Eduction

What do we want education and learning to look like in the future? We begin with a vision, essential for wise planning. Then we discuss a model of learning adequate to reaching this vision.

Everyone Learns

We require in our vision that everyone learns. We mean everyone on earth, not a single country or region. We want in the words of Theodore Hesburgh global educational opportunities for every human being on earth, including not only the traditional areas but also problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity .

Everyone learning means from birth to death. It is no longer acceptable for learning to take place only at school or university. Learning should be lifelong in the modern world.

Everyone learning means that everyone learns to the mastery level. Partial learning, currently with most students, is not acceptable. There is reason to believe that everyone can learn everything. Interaction is the key issue; for students to master all subject matter, it critical to determine student problems so we can give explicit assistance.

Learning is Enjoyable

Next, learning should be enjoyable. For people to learn they must find pleasure in learning, encouraging lifelong learning.


Learning is Affordable

The last aspect of our vision is that learning must be affordable, for individuals and governments. Often learning is too expensive for everyone to learn, even in wealthy countries. This vision, important for our future, will not be easy to attain. Our current situation is far from this. Modern technology makes it possible to realize this vision.

We now discuss two models of learning, the old currently model inadequate to reaching our vision, and a new adequate model.

The School-Teacher Model

This model is 2,500 years old, from the golden age of Greece. Most of us have learned in this model. The class is a small box, or often in universities a large box, with many people in it. A teacher stands in front and mostly talks. Most schools and universities work in this fashion, much of the time. Other means of learning may be employed, such as video, computers, and cooperative learning groups. These are usually add-on for learning and expense. Primarily the group proceeds with the teacher talking and students listening or taking notes. There is little individualization, and many do not enjoy learning in this way.

Education has traditionally been defined in physical terms. We go to school--a college implies a campus. This is no longer true. For some time educational programs have been delivered outside the classroom.

Francis Dummer Fisher
Higher Education Circa 2005
Change January / February 1987

It is gross superstition to suppose that knowledge can be obtained only by going to schools and colleges. The world produced brilliant students before schools and colleges came into being. There is nothing so ennobling or lasting as self-study.

Wit and Wisdom of Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore
New book society of India, 1970

A few exceptional teachers can make the model work very well but there are few such teachers and the number is growing smaller. Schools and universities do not treat these teachers kindly and they often leave.

The school-teacher model is not equal to the needs of our world. We must look at other models.

The dream [universal education] is impossible if education is visualized as it has always existed in recent centuries: a schoolroom with a teacher and students.

Theodore Hesburgh
Looking Forward, ed John Templeton


The Personal Learning Model

The second model is the personal learning or independent study model. There is no school and no teacher. The primary responsibility for learning rests with the student, a child or adult of any age. It is through the personal learning model that we can realize our vision. Far more study is needed to implement this model.

We have done personal study much of our lives. Before schools much learning occurs, including learning a language. At college and schools, we have homework. After formal education personal study is common.

There are many variants. An interesting way of classifying these is by the degree and quality of the student interaction with the learning material and with other people. Here are some possibilities.

Private Study

The first variant of this model is private study from books or video. The student works alone without interaction with the learning material and other people.

This is a common mode for homework, and common for individuals throughout life. A person who wishes to learn something about Japanese cooking might go to the library, check-out books, read them, and try the recipes.

Private Study and Cooperative Learning Groups

The second version is a minor difference from the first. Several students work together, talking with each other. Getting help in learning from a friend is an example.

A problem of learning with these modes is that motivation must be internal to the student. A student may quickly lose interest. Even more important, the student may not receive help for the learning problems encountered. The student may not understand the problems encountered, and so cannot ask the right question to other students in the group.

Traditional Distance Learning

Another type of private study is traditional distance learning. Correspondence courses by print or television are examples. Sizable amounts of material may be involved and credit usually desired perhaps toward a degree.

The hallmark such learning is the United Kingdom Open University. The key to its success lies in three factors. The first is the the careful development of learning material by skilled groups over several years. The second is their understanding that learning can be inexpensive with expensive curriculum development if delivery costs are low and classes are
large. Courses may have thousands of students. The third factor is that materials are carefully evaluated and improved before used with students, seldom done with educational materials. Universities in the United States discussing distance learning do not seem to understand these factors.

The Open University offers individualized help in tutorial centers throughout the country. The careful evaluation allows the material to be flexible with student problems. But the degree of interaction is still low, for many students.

Personal Tutors

A single individual, or small group of individuals, working with a tutor, is an old idea. An early example was Socrates. The tutorial system at Oxford University and Cambridge University was similar. The wealthy have often used private live-in tutors to educate their children.

The dialogues of Plato show Socrates in action, we assume. Socrates did not lecture. He did not deliver information. He asked questions and student replies stimulated further questions Socrates asked each student to create her or his own knowledge by replying to the questions. Today we term this a discovery or constructivist approach. It resembles to the scientific method, where questions are asked of nature. One might compare this approach with a midwife, bringing learning rather than a baby.

The skilled tutor allows for maximum interaction, responding to the needs of each student. The difficulty is cost. We cannot afford enough tutors, or even find enough, for everyone. So this attractive model is not one that we can look to for the future. But it offers valuable lessons.

Technology-Based Low-Interaction Learning

The final two models involve extensive use of computers. They differ in the degree of interaction between the student and the learning units.

Computers have been used in learning for over 40 years, mostly without the full interactive capability of the computer. Units available now often show weaker interaction than those of 10 years ago. One problem is the rise of the mouse, and therefore the use of pointing as the major mode of interaction. For example, when using learning maerial on the World Wide Web, the common interaction is pointing, not providing the individualized attention to the learner. The Web may become more interactive, as greater bandwidth is available and developers are more concerned with quality interaction.

Technology-Based High-Interactive Learning

This is the model that offers the best possibility to reach the visions.

We are using the term highly interactive. The word interactive is much used with computers, so has lost meaning. Hence it is important to state what we mean by highly interactive. This is is not difficult, as we are concerned with learning.

Our model for highly interactive learning material comes from the personal tutor model. Tutors may work with students in different ways. These procedures, for the good tutor, stress interaction. Critical to this student-tutor interaction is the student's native language.
The Socratic tutor asks questions using the student's language and replies to these questions are in the student's language; students and tutors have a common language, essential for communication in learning. No tutor and student have ever communicated by pointing. Language is critical to understanding student problems. We expect voice input to be of increasing importance in highly interactive units, essential in some situations.

Highly interactive learning is very different than lectures. It resembles a conversation with both people talking frequently. Hence highly interactive learning units are conversationally interactive. Long range memory is an important factor; the tutor remembers characteristics and problems of the learner from previous sessions, and uses this information in new learning activities.

The importance of highly interactive learning cannot be exaggerated. The central problem of learning at any moment is to determine what the student knows and does not know, and to offer appropriate help based on that knowledge. This allows us to be responsive to the needs of the student. This knowledge can be gained only with careful interaction with the student. So non-interactive or weakly interactive forms of learning, can never help all students to learn. Skilled teachers and tutors recognize this need. The other models cannot fulfill our vision for the future of learning.

Conversational interaction, based on computer learning units, may seem a difficult goal to attain. Most learning material available from computers is, as noted, weakly interactive. Highly interactive learning material requires different software than previously, far more responsive to individual student needs.

It may appear that highly interactive software demands use of artificial intelligence. But this is not the case. We have been developing such software at the University of California, Irvine, for 30 years, beginning with computers far weaker than today's computers. As an example, consider the Scientific Reasoning Series, marketed by IBM. Its aim is to help students understand how scientists work. The programs are highly interactive, even Socratic.

One program in this series is Batteries and Bulbs. It is based on an earlier unit developed by the Science Curriculum Improvement Study, discovering simple laws of electrical circuit behavior. The student engages in on-line experimentation. The program watches closely to see if the student is looking for the right data, and is drawing reasonable conclusions . Help is offered as necessary, but every student will make the discovery. Another program in the Scientific Reasoning Series allows students to discover the laws of Mendelian genetics, again with a highly interactive approach.

These interactive programs, and eight similar programs, were developed on a computer with only 64 K of memory and no hard disk. They have been moved to modern personal computers. They include simulations, but the simulation is only a small part of the program. Most of the code is for interacting with the student, analyzing students' responses and deciding what to do next. The interaction is in English, with very little use of pointing or multiple choice. A graduate student, David Britton, is working on a voice input version to compare with keyboard input.

The programs in The Scientific Reasoning Series are mentioned to show it is possible to develop highly interactive materials, even for computers much weaker than today's personal computers.

Designing Highly Interactive Learning Modules

The development of highly interactive programs is not dependent on advanced technology. It depends on a production process developed for over 30 years, the Irvine-Geneva system; the developers were at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Geneva. Other systems are possible. Since the materials are to be used worldwide, the production system eases the process of converting to other languages.


The first stage in the Irvine-Geneva approach is developing a management system, since the project is likely to be large. Knowledge about such systems is typically derived from corporations, where management is a critical problem.


The next stage in development of highly interactive material is pedagogical design. This is done by skilled teachers from the area developed. There are two stages, overall design and detail design. For overall design the general outline is developed, and written descriptions of each module are prepared

Detailed design is the most important part of development. The quality of the materials is highly dependent on what happens in this process. Interaction is described in detail, as are details of what is to be stored and how this is to be used. Skilled teachers work in groups of about four designing a module. The nature of interactive material is described carefully during the first morning of group activity. Results are in a "script," either on paper or in a computer.

The responsibilities of the developing group include design of all media for the final product, in descriptive form. Skilled professionals fill in the details.


The third stage in the Irvine-Geneva process is implementation. This must include computer code and necessary media. With the online script editor, much of the programming is done by the computer.


The last stage is formative evaluation, looking for problems associated with learning. We use the unit with many students, and make improvements based on information gathered by the computer and professional evaluators. At least two stages of formative evaluation and improvement are recommended. Summative evaluation should follow.

Highly Interactive Learning And Our Vision

Finally we consider how highly interactive learning allows us to meet our vision.

Everyone Learns

The first goal is that everyone learns, in all locations, at all ages, to the mastery level. This demands that we develop, evaluate, and deliver a very large quantity of excellent highly interactive computer-based learning material, at all levels, and eventually in many languages. Very little such material exists.

It is not necessary to develop a full range immediately. The early material should be trial development, refining our tactics before larger efforts. Initial development may be only in one or two languages. This material can be tested with many students. We can begin with material most needed and therefore with the largest market.

Because of mastery and individualization, learning may require less time. This allows more be learned by each individual. One way to insure mastery is to make frequent testing an intrinsic part of learning and guide future student study on the results. Testing and learning would no longer be separated, but would be in intimate combination. Cheating as a problem vanishes.

Learning is Enjoyable

The importance of motivational aspects of learning cannot be too highly stressed. We want students to enjoy learning, to want to continue learning all their lives. This has implications for both development and evaluation. Pedagogical designers should be frequently concerned with motivational issues of learning. Highly interactive units are intrinsically motivating; interaction maintains interest.

Evaluation of motivation is very important. This can best be done in public environments such as of shopping centers and libraries. The students are under no pressure from teachers or future exams. We watch for locations where many students leave. People stay working only if their interest is maintained. We rework those areas where motivation is low, and repeat cycles of evaluation and improvement.

Learning is Affordable

The affordability of learning materials is complex. As with the Open University, two factors must be considered, cost of development and cost of delivery to the students. The cost of development of very large amounts of highly interactive learning units will be great. In the United States costs of development is often underestimated. In recent years there has been little serious development of learning material in any mode.

If we deliver material to large numbers of learners, the cost for each student is decreased. Further analysis is available from the author.
After the process is started, early sales can support future development, but major initial funding is essential.


The process will not be a simple one, but it is possible. I see no other possibility for attaining a twenty-first century educational system that matches our visions. We should proceed with careful initial testing.

As Hugh Burns said: "Those of you who are unfortunately caught up in expedient movements in education need to take a close look at the nature of the hope on Pandora's chip. You're dealing with as powerful a tool as the gods have ever given us" (Burns, 1981).


Hugh Burns
Pandora's Chip: Concerns About Quality CAI
Pipeline, Fall 1981