Education in 2015: Cyberlearning for digital natives

What learning might look like in 2015...

Almost hidden by a boxy lectern, researcher and author Christine Borgman stood before a couple hundred college and university education IT professionals and gave them the Vision Thing.

At last week's annual Educause conference in the US, Borgman outlined what learning might look like in 2015, just seven years from now, if educators, teachers, researchers and policy makers systematically leverage emerging technology trends. Those trends include pervasive high-bandwidth wireless networks; cloud-based processing; and fast-growing repositories of digital information, including a rising tide of data from networked sensors and information analysis tools.

Her presentation was based on the recently released report by the US National Science Foundation's Task Force on Cyberlearning, which Borgman chaired. The report, "Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge" is available online.

Borgman is professor and presidential chair of information studies at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, and a researcher with the university's Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, which develops wireless sensing systems and explores their impact on a range of scientific and social issues. Her latest book, from MIT Press, is Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet.

Cool and precise, Borgman reminded her listeners that today's students, whom she called "digital natives," already are using many of these tools on their own to understand their world and to learn, often in nontraditional ways, outside of formal education structures. Yet the classrooms into which these students are herded are unchanged, for the most part, from those of their parents or even their grandparents. When they take their seat in a row of other seats, students in effect step back in time, out of their connected, real-time relationship with the Web, with friends, with information.

In 2015, learning, as distinct from "education," will be fully accessible, not only at school but at home and other areas outside of class, Borgman predicted. Simulations, remote virtual labs and data-visualization tools will let students work with vast amounts of real-time data. They will have access to information in a wide range of online digital repositories. At home, they will have seamless access to resources of all kinds, and share in virtual interactions with classmates, teachers and others. Teachers will be able to track how students are interacting with course materials, identifying problems early and helping students toward successful learning.

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