I am hoping to attend a few sessions of the virtual conference with the title "The Future of Education." First, I am assuming that most of the conference is related to how technology is improving our ability to support and implement educational activities and learning. I'm not sure exactly what they are presenting, but I would probably address the changes in content development, content publishing, and content consumption as drivers in the future of education. I would also talk about how new social networking characteristics of web technology has brought new engagement opportunities to mainstream web users.
Changes in Content Development
The past few years have brought radical change to our ability to create digital content. Software enhancements, increased computer power, and increased broadband have empowered anyone to have the ability to create content and they have done it. The educational community has taken full advantage of these new technologies and have engaged in content creation, however because millions of others have also engaged in creating blogs, videos, and podcasts, there has been an explosion of content on the web. Examples of this explosion are everywhere and in every category. Without digging into the the details, just surf the web and you will encounter the explosion of content creation.
Another key characteristic is content remixing. Because duplication of digital assets is so easy, many people are able to take existing work and adopt it for new context. This will continue to evolve and the remixing of content will become both driven by content creators like educators and trainers and will start to happen dynamically through "mash-ups" within personal learning environments.
Changes in Content Publishing
Two key drivers that have changed the publication of digital content is Really Simple Syndication (RSS). This defacto web standard has allowed web content to transform from a static destination model (visiting a web site) to a dynamic "pull" model that allows content to be published to individuals who choose to read it. By subscribing to an RSS "feed" the learner can have content come to them.
The second change in content publishing is Embedded Scripts. Allowing users to embed HTML-based scripts that will pull content from other sources, like embedding a YouTube video within a blog, has allowed content to be passed around the web through a very simple "cut and paste." The functionality allows the content component to interact or even continue to live with the original site that originally published the content. Slideshare was enabled presentation sharing in this fashion and we will continue to see this model be implemented as a way to embed educational content.
Changes in Content Consumption
Another area that is currently changing is that of content consumption. Learners are now pulling feeds of information and content through aggregators like Google Reader to quickly scan content throughout the day. This new approach allows learners to filter information quickly and gain many varied perspectives on a single topic. This has also changed the way the content is managed and used. Content is now quickly archived and stored for later retrieval and detailed analysis. Learners have come to trust that content will come from a variety of sources and evolve over time. This new model has also changed views on accuracy and authority, increasing the importance of skills such as critical thinking and rapid decision making.
The Social Web
While from the beginning the web as been a social phenomenon, new techniques and technologies have continued to enable increasingly engaging interaction among learners on the web. In my experience, improvements in Instant Messaging and email (through Gmail) have been significant drivers, and now applications are starting to build collaboration into them to allow teams to work in realtime on tasking and content development. The creation of social bookmarking services and online communities that allow for groups to collaborate asynchronously and tag, review, and share content have also driven increased interaction. Now, new services that apply analysis and feedback within the social networking tools have added additional opportunity to engage on the Internet.
With these drivers I think the future holds some interesting things for education. The creation of learning content will become very collaborative, dynamic, and innovative. Content will come from everywhere and everything and there will be new tools for personalization. Social networks will emerge as a leading filter of learning content. The educator's role will become increasingly more about assessment and evaluation and they will serve as mavens within the social networks. These leading educators will have a much greater influence on a much larger audience, while educators, along with experts within knowledge domains, unwilling to engage online will become less and less relevant.
It will be interesting times.