Learning for 2020

My journey to understand what life will be in year 2020 and how we should prepare our next generation to cope with life at 2020.

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Elearning Scenarios (in 2014)

The Edinburgh Scenario is a MUST watch presentation if you are interested in what is the future of learning? Using a "scenario planning" methodology. After interviewing 16 international experts in the field, they come up with these possible themes. {All images captured from the presentation slides]

By grouping the themes into two groups, those related to technology and society

and those related to balance of power

they come up with four possible scenarios:

These are all possible outcome. The future depends very much on the path we are going to take today and in the immediate future. There are a list of the questions they asked:

A number of themes they have investigated at the beginning were not taken into account in developing these 4 scenarios. [My highlight]

Will that lead to additional scenarios? Out of the left out 4 themes, I have great concern about the "resolution of IP disputes", or the current tension between the copyright owners and open/free information movement. This will play an important role in determining the future of our civilisation.

The other three left out themes, I believe, are more related to our philosophical view of "what is learning" and what will be the most influential views of learning that will appear in the next few years.

I will be keeping a watching eye on these topics.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The technology platform in 2020

In a relative old blog, There's Plenty of Room in the Future (dated May 9, 2003) Naval Ravikant wrote:
Twenty years ago, the personal computer revolution fuelled silicon valley based on two drivers:
  • The complexity for minimum component costs in the semiconductor industry increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year and a half (Moore's Law). This drove up CPU speed, RAM size, GPU power, etc.

  • Hard disk storage for a given cost increased by a factor of two every 9-12 months

  • Geometric growth in CPU power and disk space drove the PC revolution. Big winners -- Intel, Seagate, Microsoft, others...

    In the last five to ten years, it became obvious that other predictable factors were at play:

  • Modem speeds doubled every 21 months, up until the point where they made the jump to broadband

  • Optical communications bandwidth doubled to tripled every year

  • LAN bandwidth increased 10x every two to three years

  • Geometric growth in modem speeds, LAN networking, and optics drove the Internet revolution. Big winners -- Yahoo! Ebay, Google, others...

    In the last three-five years, yet more steadily advancing technical trends have come into play:

  • Internet traffic continues to double every year for the foreseeable future

  • CMOS image sensors are doubling in density every 18 months

  • Liquid Crystal Displays and Liquid Crystal on Silicon are increasing panel size and density, roughly doubling every two to three years

  • Solid-state non-volatile memory is doubling in capacity every 18 months

  • Improved power management and new batteries are increasing effective battery life by about 20-30% every year

  • Wireless networks are doubling in capacity every 18 months

  • On the other hand, I saw a report about a 64-bit traffic jam. According to the growth trend of the internal memory of computer (RAM), the physical address space for a 32-bit computer is 4G. Today, most consumer grade desktop computer are sold with 512M RAM (Dell is promoting a free upgrade to 1G today). If the trend continues, the 4G limit will be reached in a couple of years. Will the current lack of software support for 64-bit computing spell the first reversal of the trend? I doubt that!

    The current consumer grade computer has over-supplied the computational power to the average users. The main economic driving force will be a new application which will use up the current over-supplied computational power. Will that come from video processing? image processing? natural language processing? I don't know. Whatever that may be, it will change the life in 2020.

    Saturday, February 12, 2005

    Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

    George Siemens wrote:
    Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge)1 can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.

    Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday2 is also critical. [superscripts mine.]

    Principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.

  • Learning3 may reside in non-human appliances.

  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known

  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

  • 1 If we define learning as actionable knowledge, there is an implicit objectivism in the definition. As such, I read connectivism as an acknowledgement that knowledge reside outside of ourselves and hence one of the strategy to manage knowledge is through building of "connections" and promoting skills associated to acquiring "know-where" - information literacy. So, in addition to know-how and know-what, we need know-where, the ability to know where a solution may be found and also be able to find a good solution. Closely related to this will be another important skill - know-who - a social network of associates who will have similar interests and believe and are ready to form team quickly to solve ad hoc problems.

    2 This is a call to recognise the role of chaos and understand the inter-dependency of entities in the eco-system.

    3 This is a point I am not sure if I have understood. Earlier, quoting Driscoll(2000), "This definition ... [of] learning as a lasting changed state (emotional, mental, physiological (i.e. skills)) brought about as a result of experiences and interactions with content or other people." In the section discussing "Limitations of Behaviourism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism", Siemens wrote:
    These theories [Behaviourism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism] do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations.

    Then I failed to see how organisation has emotional, mental or physiological states. Any decision made by an organisation is a consequence of decision(s) made by people and these people's previous experience. While I acknowledge that these decisions may be stored external to the people making it (e.g. as rules in the organisation's processes or policy), this is NOT the same as the organisation learning.

    With the above comments, I felt that Siemens is taking a right direction towards understanding the new learning environment to be faced by us now and by our next generation. As the theory is refined, I believe we shall have some guidance from the theory.

    Tuesday, February 08, 2005

    Digital guru floats sub-$100 PC

    via OLDaily (Stephen Downes)

    Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and founder of MIT's Media Labs, says he is developing a laptop PC that will go on sale for less than $100 (£53).

    He described the device as a stripped down laptop, which would run a Linux-based operating system,

    "We have to get the display down to below $20, to do this we need to rear project the image rather than using an ordinary flat panel.

    "The second trick is to get rid of the fat , if you can skinny it down you can gain speed and the ability to use smaller processors and slower memory."

    I heard about a "A4-size palm shaped computer" couples years ago for equipping every children in China. This news also goes the same way.

    He plans to be distributing them by the end of 2006 and is already in discussion with the Chinese education ministry who are expected to make a large order.

    "In China they spend $17 per child per year on textbooks. That's for five or six years, so if we can distribute and sell laptops in quantities of one million or more to ministries of education that's cheaper and the marketing overheads go away."

    The scale of economy is there. If it becomes successful, 2020 will definitely be very different from today.

    What will her future be - 2?

    [Note: this is a post I wrote on Saturday, February 05, 2005 posted on my other blog Random Walk in E-Learning ]

    Couple of months ago, I asked What will her future be? as a way to try to look into the future and hope to find a direction to educate my daughter.

    Starting from an economical view, I have concluded our future in the developed world is
    a future where
  • repetitive tasks will be replaced by computer and machinery,

  • creativity and innovation are critical,

  • communication skill, team work and problem solving skill are important,

  • productivity must be so high that an average people will support the needs of parents who had inadequately funded their retirement and children of their own

  • Today, I am not any wiser. However an article in McKinseyQuarterly Don't blame trade for US job losses points out that in USA (as an example of developed countries), the manufacturing job market share has been falling for at least half a century - and I believe it will continue to fall. Godfrey Parkin also shared my concern and noted that

    To some, this was going to be The American Century with the US as the hub of a booming knowledge economy. Lower-paid menial jobs would go, and Americans would upgrade to higher-paid knowledge jobs. George Bush, when asked what he would say to someone who had just lost his job to someone in India, said he’d give that poor worker some money to get a better education in a community college. But many of those losing jobs to offshore companies don’t need community college educations, because they are already graduate engineers or PhDs in computer science. The White House has become an Ivory Tower.

    and further worries that instead of "The American Century", it may become "The Chinese Century":

    A very high percentage of everything that US consumers buy comes from a factory in China. What happens when Chinese entrepreneurs wake up to e-commerce and disintermediate the entire US retail sector? Why would you pay $500 for a designer suit at Macy's when you can get the same suit from the same factory online for $50? $35 for a blender at Target, or $5 for the same thing online? A couple of Chinese Amazon.coms and a Chinese FedEx could cripple one of the few sectors in the US where employment is currently growing. And it could happen overnight.

    I am delighted to heard Richard Florida from ITconversation talking about The Rise of the Creative Class. A light seems to shine through. This century is a new century where the economy is no longer driven by manufacturing. How important creativity will be in the future economy is anybody's guess. If Richard Florida is right, at least we should start cultivating creativity, diversity, communication skills and in dependent learning ability in our next generation.

    Monday, February 07, 2005


    In my other blog Random Walk in E-Learning, I found myself asking the question What will her future be? a couple of times.

    The main tenet of this blog is driven by several observations started in that series of posts.

    • We are now in a rapid changing world. Information and communication technology has fundamentally changed the way we work, communicate, collaborate and entertain ourselves. This fundamental change will influence every aspect of our lives in the developed countries - may be to a lesser effect to the under-developed and developing countries until they catch up.

    • The global economy is no longer driven by nation-based enterprises. The new multi-national enterprises are not interested in the national economy of the countries where they spawned. In order to reduce cost, the operation and production will be shifting to countries of lower living standards - spell lower wages. While creating job opportunities in these under-developed or developing countries, the developed countries will continue to see low level jobs continuing to disappear. My question is how can these developed countries continue to create wealth to sustain the living standards of its citizens.

    • The cost of moving between places has decreased dramatically. I believe people with talent and skills will be able to select their preferred countries to live. It is likely that some cities (or countries) will continue to attract people with high talent and skill. These people (whether are there for as a traveller on their way to other more attractive places or decided to settle) will take up the high value jobs leaving the lower value jobs to the those who cannot move or the locals. The less attractive places will remain "brain-dead" causing an increasing gap (or divide) between the wealthy and the poor - at least for the working class. It will be even more obvious for those whose main income is generated from their accumulated asset. They obviously will like to stay in places most attractive to them.

    • Although I am Chinese by blood, I now call Australia home. I am not particularly interested in whether it will be "the American (or Australian) Century" or "the Chinese Century". My focus is more on the divide of "developed countries" and "un-developed countries". Good luck to China if she can join the rank of developed countries within the next 20 years - and I surely hope and believe so.

    • Teaching and learning is the area I am passionate about. I have spent my life in this area - teaching immediately after I graduated from Hong Kong University and am still working on the e-learning industry.

    • Life expectancy of human is getting longer and longer. Our next generation gets the huge burden to create income to support their old, non-working parents for a long time. Hence if they want to maintain their current level of living standard, they need high value jobs - jobs that produce income to support more than three dependent people (parents and child). Or in anther words, the world will need manufacturing and food producing processes which can feed four people by the labour of one.

    As part of the long Chinese culture, I strongly believe education is the only way to escape poverty. My life started shortly after the second world war. At that time, my father had nothing, except the clothes he was wearing, a tooth brush and a cup. Later he asked my mother to join him and here I came. I am very proud of my father who brought us up and given us a good education. Now, it is my turn. I want to look at what kind of education can give my daughter the best opportunity to cope with the life in 2020 and support her then aging parents.

    I don't propose that I have a solution to offer here. Learning for 2020 is my journey of exploration on these issues.