Wither Open Educational Resources in 2036?

Open Education 2016

Author: Marshall (Mike) Smith, Retired, United States

Except in the broadest generalities, I cannot imagine what the world will be like in 2036. Assuming that the pace of change holds, digital technology will be far faster, have seemingly infinite capacity, be cheaper in some sense, and, in general, be far more ubiquitous in our lives than it is now. It also seems likely that artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and medical research will play very important roles in society, some good and some bad. Robots will replace very large numbers of workers, even those in what we now think of as jobs that require human judgment. For many, fantasies will come true in their living rooms. And those in well-to-do parts of the world will live for a long, long time.

Huge threats will exist. The economy will be restructured around robots and other AI, frustrating many who are without work. The technical infrastructure will be under continuous attack, far worse than it is now. Unless governments become saner, the world will not have redressed the huge inequalities within and among nations. Local wars will continue to exist. And, just as AI and medical research will be beneficial, so can they be used for evil purposes. New weapons and new diseases will become commonplace.

Education will change as it tries to keep up with the fast-paced changes in society. Parents could have lot more time to raise and teach children, if they are not addicted to seventh-generation VR. By 2021, the fourth generation of AI cognitive tutors will begin to change the way we teach mathematics, the sciences, and history in school. And by 2036, VR will play an important supportive role. Textbooks will be forgotten. Individualization will be rampant at all levels of schooling above eighth grade. Human teachers will be necessary for the young and, in this crazy world, human psychologists will become even more critical. In the long run, I hope, we sustain human peer relationships.

What role might OER play in this new environment? What a weird question! One answer is that the low-hanging fruit of government publications, research journal articles, school curricula, and textbooks (if they exist) will all be OER. This supports a democratic society. A second answer is that OER will adapt to changing technology, including AI, VR, and whatever else comes along that might support learning.

But, while they suggest a positive role for OER, these answers fail to address the serious problems of the world. Thus, a third answer is that OER must be part of the solution to the world’s problems. Unless OER is useful, and seen as useful to people in the parts of the world that lack basic resources, it will just be an invisible part of a much larger landscape in 2036. Is it crazy to imagine that OER can be of great use in the developing world, in the camps of people fleeing their nations because of violence, in the parts of the US in great poverty, in the prisons of the world? No, it is not crazy, just hopeful. And OER is not just school-based—it can serve medical needs, agricultural needs, and basic and complex occupational training needs.

Right now, OER can begin to aggressively serve these needs. If OER does not begin to do so right now, we will always ask the “when” question. How do we change to focus the necessary resources on becoming mission-focused, not for all OER, but for enough of it to measurably help improve the odds for those who are in the greatest need? A new OER in 2036 with a mission and AI and VR capacity could be extraordinarily useful. But unless we move quickly, OER will be an old, wrinkled innovation well before 2036.

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This work by Marshall Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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