The exponential era: how the acceleration of technology is transforming business, politics and society by Azeem Azhar
Published in September 2021.
Living between pandemic periods has made it difficult to think about the future of higher education. Most of the time, we are all trying to get through our days. Planning for the University of 2030 looks like a luxury we just can’t afford at the moment.
Why should we think about the higher education of the future? One lesson COVID-19 should teach us is that the institutional resilience of tomorrow depends on the institutional investments of today.
What to do today to build the anti-fragile university of tomorrow?
One place to start thinking about the future of higher education is to read (and talk about) books about the future. The exponential age is a great place to start.
The central argument of The exponential age is that the technologies of the 21st century are evolving exponentially, while the institutions that structure our society are gradually evolving.
The difference between the speed at which technology advances and our ability to change the way we think and act leads to what the author of the book, entrepreneur Azeem Azhar, calls an “exponential gap”.
The exponential age is full of stories of how this gap manifests in the fields of AI and computing, biology, renewables, and manufacturing.
Little attention is paid to the potential impacts of exponential technological change on higher education. This is not a review of The exponential age, but rather an appreciation that Azhar provides us with a framework to reflect on some possible futures of higher education.
What does it mean for higher education that by 2030 computing power will be 100 times faster?
Today I would say online education is at roughly the same stage of development as electric vehicles (EVs).
An EV has certain areas of superiority over an internal combustion engine (ICE) powered vehicle and many other areas of comparative deficiency.
Electric vehicles are quieter and require less maintenance than an ICE vehicle, and they can be recharged at home.
However, electric vehicles today are more expensive than comparable ICE vehicles, due to the high cost of batteries. Electric cars also cannot travel as far on a full charge as a gasoline car can travel with a full tank of gasoline. Charging an EV battery takes much longer than filling a gas tank. And the number of charging stations nationwide is paltry compared to the more than 65,000 places in the United States where you can refuel.
Like electric vehicles, online education has some advantages over face-to-face learning. For adult professionals, the geographic and temporal flexibility of online education makes this medium of learning and accreditation superior to residential alternatives.
For many learners, however, online education lacks many elements that make residential learning so impactful and effective. Online learning can make it difficult to structure time effectively for students who are not well prepared for success in college.
The social element of learning, including the connection between educators and students, may be more difficult for some learners in a fully online environment. And today, creating high-quality immersive learning experiences that emphasize educator / learner relationships and active / experiential learning is no less expensive for colleges and universities to deliver than courses. comparable residential units.
By 2030, the advantages of ICE vehicles over battery-powered vehicles will likely be gone. Batteries may not get exponentially cheaper and faster, but their price will drop and their capacity will increase. By 2030, electric vehicle batteries will likely be a third more expensive and allow vehicles to travel twice the distance between charges than they do today.
Will these changes mean that electric cars and trucks will replace gasoline vehicles at a faster rate than we might imagine today? I would say it is likely.
How could e-learning change by 2030?
One possible future is that advances in AI, coupled with rapid and continuous scaling up of online platforms, could fundamentally change the economics of online education.
What happens when the integration of artificial intelligence into large-scale online educational platforms allows the learning experience to feel fully social, interactive and immersive?
One of the points made by Azhar is that exponential technologies make it harder to predict the future. We can never fully foresee how rapidly changing technologies, business models and external events could accelerate changes in areas such as work, consumer behavior, and even politics. We are not good at thinking exponentially.
The point, however, is that we are using a framework of exponential change to help us decide where we should invest in research, development, and experimentation.
Colleges and universities, even those wholly dedicated to delivering a bundled residential learning experience, should set aside time and space to invest in experimenting with teaching and learning modalities. of tomorrow.
Large-scale online learning can never be as intimate, relational, interactive and immersive as traditional online courses and programs. But it can improve much faster than we think, allowing education and accreditation costs to drop quickly.
Investing in experimenting with new methods of large-scale online learning can also reveal new ways to improve residential education.
Read and talk The exponential age could be a tool to help us in colleges and universities think beyond our daily challenges and imagine what higher education might look like in 2030.
What are you reading?