Some of the enticing elements of online learning for a finance geek like me are that the need for infrastructure is so small. With the cost and technical challenges of internet access approaching zero within the next ten years, it's interesting to think about what ten years might bring.
So, let's look back as amateurs to the technology of the year 2000. For example, everyone was paranoid about the year 2000 fixes that had to be done to ensure that banking and and other important data wasn't lost. What was a smart phone? An iPad was inconceivable. Even the iPod wasn't invented yet. I am not sure when I set up my first wireless home network, but I know it wasn't in 2000.
In one recent article in Voices over in The Washington Post, Larry Cuban said that he doesn't think online education will take off as others have projected. He cites social reasons as part of the cause.
However, it's clear that social reasons are different for this and coming generations. They have difference ways of socializing. They do not need to be at school together to socialize. Socializing is something that can be done elsewhere. Between face to face, Skype, texting, and calling, youth can stay connected more than ever.
So, where does that leave all of the schools that are building new buildings today? What will they be in ten or twenty years. Let's try to envision, knowing that whatever I project will likely be too conservative.
Students will want most of their content delivered through online or other electronic means. They'll want to produce and submit much of their work through electronic means. They'll want help, and so teachers will not be irrelevant, but the definition of a teacher will change and the way the job is carried out will change.
In addition, students will want to engage with each other more for help. Just as online games allow for participants to help one another, future education will allow for more (not less) collaboration.
Ten years from now, I'm not even sure that I can imagine what those technologies might be. Wireless access will be more prevalent. I'm sure that we won't have to look for a Starbucks or Panera Bread shop. In addition, I can imagine that other internet technologies will be faster and more prevalent as cell coverage increases.
Twenty years from know is not even imaginable (at least not by me). Technology is moving so fast that I can't see that far. My aged crystal ball is just not functioning at that level.
The point is that buildings are usually built to last virtually forever. The buildings being constructed today are essentially "forever buildings." They are expensive, but if they won't be used as schools what good is it to build such a high quality long lasting structure?
I may be wrong, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that school buildings may be obsolete in ten or twenty years and as districts look at new facilities, they need to plan for the long range and not merely for the next five years or so.