Via Technology to Social Change!  Posted from email dated 21 April 1999

Over the last few years, education and training provision has been subject to massive change. Technology has not only altered today’s information environment, but has fundamentally redirected the course of the future. The most drastic change will likely be seen in the unification of the worlds of business and education. Consider the following scenario of possible effects of this union on our future.

One of the first ‘fruits’ of this union was the creation of the ‘super teacher’. The ‘classroom teacher’ was split into two roles:–

  1. a ‘class supervisor’, reviewing CAL software for currency, ensuring that computers are working, delivering non-key or additional learning materials, overseeing examinations and dealing with social situations;
  2. a highly qualified, highly paid, peripatetic teacher delivering the key learning not provided (or considered unsatisfactory) on-line, and providing for specific local situations.

The teachers supervise their ‘operative level’ colleagues by validating learning and assessment records, evaluating the effectiveness of particular learning programmes and checking the documentation and records held by the operative level.

Beyond the age of 11, daily attendance in schools (small premises near the parents work or converted houses with walking distance of home, sponsored by commercial interests), is no longer compulsory. Some pupils now attend school only twice weekly for tutorial support from the class supervisor and timetabled input from the teacher. For the most part, pupils are encouraged to work on-line from home (like many of their parents) using tele-conferencing facilities provided by sponsors. Sponsors contributions top-up the basic state provision. The competition to be accepted by ‘superior’ sponsors is very fierce. Being able to log-on ‘early’ or ‘late’ in order to join live classes in geography, history, languages etc. from other countries proved popular. All learning material accessed, and assessment activity undertaken, is automatically monitored to ensure adequate learning for each individual.

At age 11 and up, pupils have to complete a minimum number of study hours per year, but this can be arranged to suit individuals and families. These very flexible arrangements ensure that there is time for regular contact with friends, neighbours and family to maintain close relationships. All pupils are monitored automatically for the hours of study per week they access but, as academic success is linked with access to leisure facilities, prizes, job offers and many other rewards provided by sponsors, free access is capped and a fee per module is charged. Other slower, or special needs, pupils get unlimited access to specialist materials and more live support, free of charge.

The home-based on-line learning revolution (facilitated originally by digital TV systems) lead to a rapid reduction in the number of old fashioned ‘school factories’. Colleges and universities have also disappeared, merged or partnered with industry and government units to provide on-line post compulsory education and vocational courses. These now compete for ‘global market share’ in an international market. Most of the old examination validation bodies became obsolete years ago. The new private companies, providing global education and training with a ‘brand name’ and market identity, validate their own products against a background of governmental regulation and international standards. The boundaries of cultural identity blurred long ago, to be replaced with allegiance to a ‘brand’ and to specific sponsors.

On-line 'education brokers' emerged some years back. They are now, with the help of the national attainment database records and analysis provided by embedded artificial intelligence software, very skilled. These brokers help select the 'learning package' you require in order to graduate from age 14 to 80+. The range of possible course products is filtered for you automatically by a search engine. Your attainment record, known learning aptitudes and preferences recorded in the database are cross-referenced with required learning objectives, and with the product data of the participating course software providers. A ‘course’ product may consist of a module from Microsoft; one from Plato and two from Kellogg’s to provide you with the desired knowledge and skills profile. These products will produce fast learning outcomes as they automatically tailor themselves to the learner’s optimum learning profile.

Artificial intelligence software continually monitors the learners actions and is able to identify optimal learning conditions during the learning sequence in order to generate similar learning situations in the future, and to avoid learning strategies known to be ineffective. This, and the development of gender specific on-line teaching materials, has already improved the performance of male pupils, and analysis of learning patterns and assessment data shows marked differences in the learning and performance aptitudes of males and females. Weak areas of achievement or knowledge are noted by the system, and this data allows the training software to customise the programme to address these areas with remedial material and/or adjust the nature and speed of the delivery to optimise assimilation of the materials.

The national attainment database (maintained by a company in India) uses a ‘National Insurance’ number as an identifier, ensuring that regardless of nationality, name change or even a change of gender, your profile will not be compromised. All educational / training software from any learning location, and much of the new games software, feeds the database. The database now also analyses, categorises and records strategic planning, problem solving and creative thinking skills attainment provided, increasingly, by computer games. Because games based attainment data is produced whilst unsupervised, it is generally used only for secondary (‘inference’) analysis purposes unless supported by repeated demonstration of the learned response within a broad range of situations.

Vocational education and training is provided in a similar manner. On-line home working is common now, and for others the ‘learning centre’ near their home often provides legal and financial advice, access to an enhanced job information database and the social interaction and support required to encourage skills updating. Vocational training and skills updating is undertaken either at home or in the workplace, but always in your own time. Most people today are familiar with full-time short-term contract employment, or short hours, requiring that they hold a number of jobs simultaneously. Routine re-testing of knowledge and skills is commonplace, and further fuels the re-training industry. For most, employment is punctuated with periods of unemployment; often requiring re-training or re-testing designed to optimise current skills profiles, general aptitudes and abilities with the demands of a new situation.

Employment brokers, often the same companies as the ‘education brokers’, perform a very similar task for adults. An analysis of training needs is provided, in part, by the national attainment database, a job/person specification provided by employers, known learning aptitudes and preferences, and the product data and prices from the participating course software providers. A ‘course’ product, if required, may consist of module(s) from various providers, designed to meet the desired knowledge and skills profile. Suitable assessment materials for a small charge can validate any skills the individual feels they already have, and which are not credited to them.

The information revolution has encouraged entrepreneurial activities by small, disparate groups of individuals, leading to a new, fast changing, dynamic business oriented culture where qualifications count highly, ‘social status’, gender and age count for little, and actual performance is everything. It is common for people in their 80’s work to supplement incomes. For many, time and money once spent commuting is now used more productively, and many people arrange their working lives around their social needs. The age of the multi-skilled, flexible worker is well established, and mobility is much less important. Commuter traffic jams are almost unknown. Many express concerns about the involvement of industry in education, and about the power companies now have over the young and impressionable.

For those who cannot learn, those who will not learn, the technophobe or those unwilling or unable to adapt or change, there is low-paid unskilled work. A substantial number of people from all age groups are involved, and a sub-culture, more and more alienated from main stream society, has formed. Despite sustained political effort to date, this situation remains.

To some extent there is now an ‘equality’ of educational provision as all now use the same, or very similar, basic learning products. Ability is the main criteria of success, but money can still buy a ‘fast lane’, money either from a major sponsor or from private means. The rich, however, have always had, and will always have a broader range of choices.