Andrew Pass is the founder of A Pass Educational Group, LLC. With 2,400 associates, A Pass works with organizations to develop content. A Pass designs courses, writes assessment questions, correlates instruction to assets, has a world language department, and more. The company works with all levels, from pre-kindergarten to corporate. Under Mr. Pass’s leadership, A Pass Educational Group, LLC has grown into a multi-million dollar business.
Anybody who has ever taught in a classroom knows that every student is different. They learn and think in different ways; they have different interests; and, they have had different experiences. Even identical twins have many differences. Teachers cannot possibly individualize instruction for every student. There are simply too many students in a typical classroom for the teacher to know every student well, let alone use that knowledge to tailor learning to individual needs. Therefore, in a typical classroom, all students are expected to do the same thing at the same time. Within the next twenty years, I believe that educational stakeholders have the opportunity to make the learning experience far more individualized.
In the earliest structures of education teachers did not work with groups of twenty five or thirty students at one time. Rather, tutors worked with single students or perhaps very small groups. Mass access to education changed this. Society could certainly not afford to provide a tutor for every student. The present state of teaching and learning began.
Teaching and learning will continue to evolve. Within the remainder of this article, I contemplate one potential teaching and learning format that could exist in twenty years. I will only consider the benefits of this structure, although there are certainly potential challenges as well.
Within twenty years, individualized education will be accessible even within the large class structure. Every student will have their own Personal Learning Device, or PLD. A PLD will have the power of a modern computer but be housed in a wristwatch. Consider it a micro-sized smartphone. It will be viewed through a Heads Up Display, a virtual screen that appears in front of the user when requested. This tool will accompany each person from cradle, or at least early childhood, to grave. Though this PLD will have many different functions, from gaming to reading to telephone, this article will contemplate its role in formal education.
The PLD will have extensive algorithms that enable it to develop a deep understanding of its student. The PLD will learn how the student learns and how he thinks. Whereas students will use their PLDs for many different things both inside and outside of school, these devices will understand the student’s particular interests and the experiences he has had over his lifetime. Did the student watch the Monday night football game in which a player got badly injured? Does the student listen to a particular genre of music more than others? How well did the student sleep the previous night? Who are the student’s best friends? What kinds of things do these friends do together? The PLD will know.
The PLD will have learned the content that students are required to know and skills they should be able to do. Not only will it know this content, but it will also know many different ways in which students could struggle to learn this content and the best ways in which the content could be taught to students. In short, the PLD will possess the same knowledge that a professional teacher should have about content under study.
Long ago, I developed a metaphor to describe the relationship between teacher, student, and content. The student stands on one side of a bridge and the content on the other. The teacher’s responsibility is to serve as the bridge connecting the student and content. By 2043, this metaphor will become obsolete as the Personal Learning Device will function as the teacher.
Each PLD will serve as a customized bridge between content knowledge and skills and its student. All students may still need to master the same knowledge and skills. However, their PLD will present the information in just the right way for the student to learn best for the specific content. The PLD will learn the right fit through watching the student’s responses in the many interactions that the PLD and the student have together.
It is important to note that at times the PLD will push the student out of his comfort zone. For example, imagine a student who accesses information best by reading it. Occasionally, it might be best for the learner to practice accessing information by listening so the PLD would present it in this way.
Multiple PLDs will be able to communicate with each other to engage their different learners in collaborative projects. For example, in studying specific content there might be a great opportunity for learners with different experiences and thinking styles to work together, helping one another analyze the same thing from different perspectives. The PLDs will be able to structure this learning experience.
These PLDs will enable learning of the future to resemble learning of the past; individual students will learn in ways that best meet their unique needs. But, this begs a question. What will human teachers do?
The answer to this question is that they will play a far more important role in the classroom than they currently do. Teachers will provide the motivation, empathy, encouragement, and love that students will need at different times in the learning journey. They will have the ability to interact with one or a few students at any given time as all students remain engaged. These are components of human relationships that it will be very difficult for computers to replicate.
Even as teachers bring the human element to the classroom, they will be supported in knowing with which students to interact by their own PLD. The teacher’s PLD will interact with the students’ devices to identify the need for specific human interaction even as the student’s PLD guides him through the learning process. However, student-teacher interaction will not be constrained by the dictums of personal learning devices. Rather these interactions will allow for the common interests and common objectives of mentor, in the form of the human teacher, and mentee, or student.
The classroom of the future with its personal learning device will incorporate the individualized learning paths, from the tutor’s classroom of the past. The human teacher will continue to play a fundamentally important role, as through their actions they say to each student, “You matter.” As a result of the collaboration of the PLD, teacher, and student, each student will ideally have better opportunities to grow into healthy, self-fulfilling, contributing members of society.