The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years OnStephen Downes
In the summer of 1998, over two frantic weeks in July, I wrote an essay titled
The Futureof Online Learning
. (Downes, 1998) At the time, I was working as a distance educationand new media design specialist at Assiniboine Community College, and I wrote theessay to defend the work I was doing at the time. “We want a plan,” said my managers,and so I outline the future as I thought it would – and should – unfold.In the ten years that have followed, this vision of the future has proven to be remarkablyrobust. I have found, on rereading and reworking the essay, that though there may havebeen some movement in the margins, the overall thrust of the paper was essentiallycorrect. This gives me confidence in my understanding of those forces and trends that aremoving education today.In this essay I offer a renewal of those predictions. I look at each of the points I addressedin 1998, and with the benefit of ten year’s experience, recast and rewrite each prediction.This essay is not an attempt to vindicate the previous paper – time has done that – but tocarry on in the same spirit, and to push that vision ten years deeper into the future.
The development of new technology continues to have an impact on learning. While onthe one hand, new technology allows schools and instructors to offer learning in newways, educators nonetheless continue to face limitations imposed by technology, andsometimes the lack of technology. While access to the internet has increased greatly overthe last decade, some schools continue to experience bandwidth shortages and mostschools do not have enough computers for every student. Yet, this is changing, and thepace of this change will continue to accelerate.
As administrators struggle against the demands video streaming and bit torrent networksplace on backbones, it is hard to imagine saying that bandwidth will be unlimited. Butfrom a certain perspective, from the point of view of most users, bandwidth is alreadyunlimited, as they are able to share text, images and video with ease. The limit of 28Kfrom ten years ago now appears laughable to most urban internet users, as broadbandaccess allows downloads almost a hundred times faster. Applets are now commonplace, avideo sharing site (YouTube) is the most popular destination on the internet, and videoconferencing (through services such as Skype) is mainstream.