Foto: Bart van Overbeeke
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In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, Daan Kersten and Tessie Hartjes, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All five contributors are all working on technologies that can provide solutions to the problems of our time. This Sunday, it’s Maarten Steinbuch‘s turn.

Here are all the prior editions of [TOMORROW IS GOOD]

(Photo Bart van Overbeeke)


If all knowledge is that easily accessible, is using that knowledge what you still have to learn? Or can you even download that, like a manual?Maarten Steinbuch,

Last week we had education day with our Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. One of the topics was: how will our education be in 2030? It seems like a long time away, but it’s only 13 years! Technology is developing exponentially into the future, and education has to give students something they can use. A lot will change in those 13 years, and even more in the years after. The familiar thoughts are: learning to work together, learning to learn, a lifetime learning, etc. But first, let’s think out of the box, let’s think about 2050, 33 years from now, 1 generation. What will it look like then?

Try to imagine that by that time it has worked out well: in 2050 you can directly connect your brain to the ‘cloud’, the omniscient, connected network with all the knowledge in the world. If that would be possible, you would realise your (fact) knowledge is actually worthless: it can simply be downloaded into your head. We are also assuming that the search engines will have become so incredibly smart, that you can always find exactly what you are looking for. Uploading onto the cloud is also easy, making a backup of your brain. If all knowledge is that easily accessible, is using that knowledge what you still have to learn? Or can you even download that, like a manual? And what is the difference between a teacher and a pupil? Maybe it’s about the experience: experiencing and applying knowledge? And if that’s the case, then who will be the best teacher?

Back to the present. In Finland, they have a very interesting school system, with a lot of personal attention, from person to person. In Singapore, they learn to use technology in a good way in education, and they do use technology, but the teacher remains important. What is the role of the rapidly emerging internet knowledge transfer which is accessible online these days? Through MOOCs and online courses that are being followed by hundreds of thousands of students at the same time?

On the way to 2050, we pass by 2030 first. That’s 13 years from now. We are moving from knowledge to experience and self-discovery. Knowledge can be downloaded, experience can’t, not just yet. Students start applying a ‘cafeteria’ model for knowledge: the best lectures in the world can be found anywhere online. What remains is that experience, the teamwork, master/apprentice. I think our own faculty of Industrial Design – at the start over 10 years ago: no more lectures, no grades, only portfolios and design processes, collecting factual knowledge if you (think to) need it – was (too far) ahead of its time. It was the ultimate problem-based learning, as Maastricht has had for years for the medicine studies. In the education of the (near) future, it is about systemic thinking, context-aware engineering, human value engineering and teamwork.

Perhaps our undergraduate education should eventually completely consist of only student teams. That would be very cool!