FUTUREPERSPECTIVE - What issues in educational technology will help shape the next millennium?

What important issues in educational technology will help shape the next millennium?


In answer to the above question, five of the nation’s top educational technologists provided T.H.E. Journal with their vision of the next millennium’s top educational technology issues. We invite our readers to respond with their thoughts to [email protected].



Dr. D. Thomas King
Adjunct Professor of Education
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minn.

In 1978 I gave a talk at the now-defunct AEDS convention in Detroit. The theme of the conference was "A New Renaissance in Education." In concert with that theme, the title of my presentation was "Humanistic Technology and Education for Each: Toward a Renaissance of Learning." As an editor of an educational computing publication, and desperate for copy, I later included my talk in one of the early 1981 issues. It’s interesting now for me to reflect on my predictive powers from 20 years ago, and see if I may have become more "Nostradamic" for the new millennium.

Twenty years ago, I saw educational technology as a force loosed from a mythical Pandora’s box: powerful, but problematic, yet having a strong and positive impact on the humanistic side of the educational process. I predicted that technology would bring a new educational renaissance. Among the expected changes in the world of schooling were: established standards of learning proficiency; focusing on what students really need to know; an individual learning plan for each learner; more time and technology to help students master their learning goals; a better system of diagnosing learning difficulties and prescribing effective remedies; more individualized instruction for skills learning; a focus on lifelong learning; and, finally, greater parental participation in their children’s learning.

As I look back on that list, I still find it hard to argue against most of the desiderata presented. I have become convinced in recent years, however, that most important is the call for an individualized, personal learning plan for each and every student, designed and supervised by the student, with help, as needed, from parents and teachers. That powerful paradigm, facilitated by new technologies, is my predictive hope for the new millennium.

What makes education become "humanistic" is to empower each learner with a far greater role in and ownership of his or her learning. The learner must start with a plan to learn, and with an ownership and commitment to a continuing, effective learning process. Educational technology in the next century can make that a far greater reality than ever before, with powerful, accessible databases, electronic learning communities and peer-reviewed portfolios on the Web that display our best work. The new millennium brings access to the tools we need to live the more examined life we all strive for.


Dr. Frank B. Withrow
Director of Development
Able Company
Washington D.C.

Technology predictions for the 21st century include sensory prosthetic devices for disabled people. This may be one of the most significant factors in providing all children an equal and appropriate education. Cochlear implants are already providing many hard of hearing youngsters with functional hearing. Speech synthesizers give voice to mute individuals. New developments in micr'electronic lenses may enable a large number of visually disabled people to read printed books. Already, reading machines for blind people open the vast world of print to them. Experiments with computer controlled muscles in people with spinal cord disabilities have enabled them to walk across the stage to receive their college diplomas.

Futurists predict direct brain wave input to computers by the year 2020. The digital world has the potential to equalize educational opportunities for everyone. With wholesale data banks of educational information, we may conduct data mining that enables us to manage efficient and effective learning for every student.

Twenty-five years ago, Public Law 94-142 mandated that all handicapped children are entitled to a free and appropriate education. The law mandated Individual Educational Plans (IEPs). What we have learned about individual educational plans for disabled students may be applied to all learners. This will result in a greater efficiency in all schools, enabling us to provide the human and computer resources needed to meet the educational needs of each child.

Uncle Sam is pointing his finger at teachers and administrators and saying, "You are needed to bring the dream of quality education with high academic achievements for all children into a reality." The digital world provides us with the tools — it is up to you to provide the vision and the political will to do it.


Dr. Lawrence T. Frase
Executive Director, Research Division of Cognitive and Instructional Science
Educational Testing Service
Princeton, N.J.

The major issue for educational technology in the next millennium will be the effectiveness of its adaptation to social, scientific and political change.

Change is all around us, creating new opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, we have a plethora of new resources — digital storage, artificial intelligence, automated language analysis, automated test generation and scoring, authoring systems, speech recognition, Internet applications and collaborative technologies. Modern design techniques, growing out of software engineering, are another resource. They allow us to understand the regularities of educational products and to codify and transmit them to others. Through technology, today we can better support complex processes of cognition, development, teaching and assessment.

On the other hand, digital divides open everywhere before us — among peoples, technologies and procedures. Advances in computers outstrip software developments, software developments outstrip educational applications, and educational applications outstrip educational theory and research. Educational roles are changing, too. Given new technologies, teachers must become facilitators of learning rather than disseminators of knowledge.

Furthermore, the nature of educational research itself is changing. Long-term instructional research, exploring major theoretical issues, d'esn’t fit the needs of educational technology in an age of rapid change. A user-centered engineering approach, employing the tools and techniques of science to evaluate ongoing formative development, seems a better model. A host of other issues confronts us. At one level they include technology standards, intellectual property rights, privacy, security and equal access. At another level they include the acquisition and storage of content, teacher training, adaptation to an evolving distributed educational system, and the overall coordination of instructional research and development.

Change is happening at all levels and it is out of control — a self-propelled organic system driven by technology. To adapt to these changes we must respond in kind, with a flexible, distributed, self-managing system capable of tracking and anticipating new demands and resources, and of producing its own coherent response. Such a system would include loosely coupled non-hierarchical structures that coordinate distributed knowledge, procedures and responsibilities, and a community of highly-skilled, team-oriented people.

We may not be able to avoid the social, scientific and political changes coming in the next millennium, but we can create a system that can adapt to them. Ironically, this system would rely on the very technologies that have brought about change.


Dr. Alexander Schure
The University Federation
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The next millennium will reflect the oncoming golden age of communications. The human communication environment will deal with the symbiosis of human and machine. With respect to the influence of the educational technology of the next century, we should consider its major potentials.

How far we go with the blending of human and machine to extend our power will be one of the great issues of the near future. In comparison to today’s standards, the goal of supercomputing power in every such blending could well be reached early in the next century.

In IEEE Computer, March 1999, page 101, there is a review of Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, by Hans Moverach. The author, armed with impeccable credentials and experience, predicts that machines will reach human levels of intelligence by 2040 and that by 2050 they will have far surpassed us. He g'es on to predict sentient creations ahead.

May we now validate a long-term assumption? Will a systems approach to education allow analysis of the numerous facets and problems of education? Will it be able to provide an integrated solution that is orderly, accepts special cases, and matches the needs of the individual to the requirements of society?

Indeed, is it possible to implement self-organizing, computer-based systems that permit critical examination of the "unalterable truths" under which many present educational systems operate? These include the fixed student/teacher ratio, the assumption that the number of years determines educational attainment, and the belief that present curriculum patterns meet widely diversified student needs. With the assistance of computers, and with the tools for building decision support systems, will students in schools come to organize their own curriculums?


Dr. Alfred Bork
Professor, Information
and Computer Science
University of California Irvine

We need to change from the current learning paradigm — information transfer — to a new paradigm I call Tutorial Learning, which engages each learner in an individualized path of learning. With the old paradigm, technology is only a tack-on, not essential. Learning in the new paradigm will be impossible without the technology.

Tutorial Learning will be highly interactive, using the student’s native language (English in the United States) for both input and output. It will adapt to the needs of each individual student, looking frequently for student problems and offering help for just these problems. It will insist on mastery for all students, in all subjects. Distance learning will be the main delivery mechanism, delivering to groups of thousands or more. Problem solving and other higher order skills will be emphasized. Voice input will capitalize on the use of the spoken languages as the optimum way to stimulate learning.

The following steps are essential:

1) Few computer-based tutorial materials are now available. We need to conduct major experiments with such material to attain an empirical basis for future development. We must both develop many units and conduct professional evaluations with many students.

2) If the experiments are successful, we need to plan and carry out the major activity of creating the large amount of learning material needed. Major beginning funding will be needed, but eventually we can expect the cost per student to decline. Markets in developed countries will support distribution to the world’s poor.

3) New organizational structures for tutorial learning will be required. We need to know something of the curriculum details. Consequently, the development of these structures should follow step one, and occur after step two is underway. They need to be based on the new learning paradigm, and must be capable of supporting large numbers of students. We need also to consider how to keep the useful features of current organizations.

4) We need to plan for continuing development of new curriculum material. This includes courses replacing already developed courses.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.