108 years of predictions about the future of college

Quartz rounded up what artists, educators, and thinkers from the past century thought college would look like today. Few of the forecasts about future classrooms actually hit the mark, notes Quartz's Natasha Frost.

But the predictions, which date as far back as 1910, do point to anxieties and hopes about technology, automation, and politics that universities and students still grapple with today.

Prediction 1: Students will download knowledge into their brains (1910)

Villemard 1910

The French company Villemard commissioned artists to depict the year 2000. In one print, titled "At School," artist Jean-Marc Côté depicts a teacher crunching textbooks into knowledge with a crank-handled machine. The machine then transmits the knowledge into students' mind via a headset.

Prediction 2: Students will learn through the radio (1924)

Science and Invention editors predicted that educators would use radio to deliver lessons. The format they describe seems very similar to podcasts, which can teach students anything from how to launch a business to how to be happier. Frost points out that MOOCs also match this prediction, with remote learning taking place online.

Prediction 3: Teachers will be replaced by machines (1958)

In Arthur Radebaugh's futuristic comic, "Closer Than We Think," he predicted that most teaching would happen through "sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines." In his vision, future classrooms would have more students and fewer teachers, and students would use machines to answer questions and learn at their own pace.

Radebaugh was right that technology would help students answer questions in class (think clickers) and learn at their own pace, writes Frost. But he was wrong about the automation of teachers.

As some jobs are displaced by automation, teachers have emerged as one group of professionals that robots can't easily replace, due to the level of empathy educators need to be successful.

Related: 4 predictions about higher ed in 2040 from Georgia Tech

Prediction 4: Learning will be a lifelong endeavor (1965)

Cogitative psychologist George Miller predicted that students would have to know more than their predecessors, due to the rise of personal computers. "As automation advances and new industries replace old," he wrote, "learning will not be regarded as ending with graduating from school, but will become a way of life for everyone."

Sound familiar? Students continue to hear similar advice from executives and educators about the need to keep learning after graduation in order to stay competitive in the workforce. And universities still face pressure to equip students with future-proof skills to help them forge sustainable careers.

Prediction 5: Students will zap knowledge into their brains (1965)

Herman Kahn and Anthony Weiner, both self-described futurists, argued that future students would be able to optimize their learning through "practical use of direct electronic communication with and stimulation of the brain." The vision of electrode stimulation hasn't been realized—and probably shouldn't be anytime soon, notes Frost.

Prediction 6: Classrooms will fly (1982)

The Kids' Whole Future Catalog predicts that the future classroom will take place on an airship that travels the world. "Classes will never be boring on an airship traveling around the world! Imagine gliding over the Amazon River in South America or retracing Ulysses’ journeys through the Greek Islands," the book reads.

Google Earth can approximate this experience by giving students panoramic views of places and sites around the world, writes Frost. And Semester at Sea programs give students an opportunity to study abroad while traveling the world on a cruise ship, she adds.

Prediction 7: Higher education will collapse (1987)

Conservative activist Herbert London told The Futurist that liberal ideas would lead to the collapse of the university. He argued that campuses had become such hotbeds of Marxism, feminism, and affirmative action that people would no longer want to attend (Frost, Quartz, 11/28; Image, Villemard 1910 , accessed 12/11).


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