Future scenarios for digital learners

19 April, 2017

4 min


Interpolating digital education at EADTU 2016

During the first two decades of the 21st century, the winds of change have never ceased to blow over the dominions of education. However, it seems that the level of transformation that has taken place in other sectors and other fields of human activity as a consequence of the digitization process – reinventing products, abandoning markets and creating new processes and business models – is not being replicated in education.

Riding on the wave of e-learning, among other trends, digital technology has improved educational processes and enabled the emergence of new educational methodologies and formats. Nowadays, the blended and online models, and the educational tools and resources available on the Web, are present and widely used at all levels of education. However, in spite of all this, the overall picture of the current educational ecosystem shows little difference from previous decades. Institutions, systems, roles and organizational forms have remained essentially unchanged.

During this period, education has evolved from within. Improvements have been made, many of them thanks to the dialectic between what we call emerging pedagogies and technologies, but the giant wave of digital transformation has yet to be fully felt in education. Investigating this issue requires an impartial gaze that enables us to consider what changes and trends in the global ecosystem can impact on educational activity as a whole. It is precisely with the aim of performing such an exercise that the report Escenarios de futuro para los digital learners: Tendencias sobre la experiencia digital de los usuarios de la red y su impacto en la educación superior en línea (Future scenarios for digital learners: Trends in Web users’ digital experience and their impact on online higher education) (Moyano et al., 2016), has been written, based on a study commissioned by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya’s eLearn Center to the Fundació Creafutur [1] and coordinated jointly by the two institutions.

The results obtained – which are offered for discussion and interpretation – raise issues that seem to anticipate the true digital transformation process in education. In fact, openly raising these issues was the main goal pursued with the presentation of this report at the last EADTU 2016 held in Rome, in the form of the paper Future Scenarios for Digital Learners: Sociotechnological and sociocultural trends will transform the current educational ecosystem (see pages 45-60 of the proceedings). Specifically, the paper mentions 10 insights related with sociocultural and sociotechnological trends, associating a number of related issues with each one.


Xmas bcn eadtu2016_presentation_share from Xavier Mas García

By way of example, here are 3 insights that, in my opinion, can be considered the most critical:

  • AUTOMATION VS. CREATIVITY. The automation process not only affects rudimentary physical tasks but also advanced intellectual functions. We are on the threshold of a second Machine Age in which digital technology and artificial intelligence are taking the place of human labour. With respect to this trend:

With the emergence of adaptive learning systems and artificial intelligence-endowed virtual assistants, what impact will automation have on (pedagogical and business) educational models?

  • UBIQUITY AND HYBRIDIZATION. We live in a ubiquitous environment where mobile devices, apps, cloud computing and augmented reality allow any type of human activity to be relocated. The dividing lines between personal, professional and academic life become blurred, together with the lines between other spheres (physical and digital, public and private, individual and societal). With respect to this trend:

In a ubiquitous reality, what is the point of designing courses and educational programmes following the traditional pattern that, in the best case scenario, are offered packaged in a LMS? Wouldn’t it make more sense to consider the challenge of filtering the educational activity into the fabric of daily life, using the devices, apps and networks that are part of learners’ daily lives?

  • OPEN MICRO-CREDENTIALS [2]. The opportunity is emerging of creating a transferable system for education accreditation on a global scale that operates independently from the formal systems. Projects such as the Badge Alliance, sponsored by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, group several badge systems, laying the foundations for the creation of future standards. With respect to this trend:

Can the open badges systems and micro-credentials spread and evolve to the point of being recognized by employers and society as a whole, ending the monopoly currently held by formal educational systems in the field of accreditations?

I invite you to continue reflecting on this by accessing the submitted paper (remember, pages 45-60 of the proceedings) and the corresponding slideshow. With the same structure, you will find discussions about other trends that were identified, such as the software-driven business boom, the skill gap between educational programmes and market demands, the second (skill-driven) digital divide, the collaborative economy, the democratization of education, infoxication or the experience economy.

This study contributes a complex sociocultural perspective to the analysis of trends, with the baseline premise that these trends – in our case, the educational trends – do not operate nor are they created in isolated contexts. In actual fact, they form part of a much deeper and wider current that emanates from macrotrends that affect all human activity. This same vision can be projected onto other reports or papers, beyond those presented in this post, providing a fundamental key for interpretation and a fresh gaze for exploring the future of education.

[1] The Fundació Creafutur is a foundation sponsored by the Government of Catalonia and ESADE Business School. It specializes in the performance of consulting assignments and studies on the analysis of future trends in different sectors of the economy and digital society (http://www.creafutur.com).

[2] The open micro-credentials are ecosystems composed of open digital badges that can be used by a person to indicate the skills acquired or the knowledge learned, irrespective of the learning environment in which the training has taken place, whether this be an educational institution, the workplace or self-learning (Moyano et al., 2016: 123).

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About the author
He is a specialist in digital education and training design at the eLearning Innovation Center, a centre for educational innovation and learning transformation at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. He holds a PhD in Education and Society from the University of Barcelona and is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the same university. He has been working as a pedagogical consultant, instructional designer and manager of educational innovation since 1997, publishing works and articles related to these areas. He has also been involved in the editorial activity, creating and directing the OuterEDU collection (Editorial UOC). His interests focus on the phenomenon of online learning, the role of education in the Digital Society and the emergence of new training modalities based on AI and edTech in general.
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