Posted by: crudbasher | September 16, 2010

Michael’s First Day of College in 2020

This is my part of a collaborative blog project I did with Brian Kuhn who blogs at Shift to the Future. The theme was the first day of school in 2020.  Really I don’t think there will be a “first day” so to speak because I think learning won’t be broken up into grades anymore so in this Michael is already taking college level classes. Anyway, please enjoy!

Michael blearily pressed snooze on his alarm and looked at the clock.  It was 10:05am on September 16th, 2020.  He knew he had to get up but he was up late last night attending a synchronous session from his Biology professor.  Actually his teacher wasn’t a professor at all.  He was a researcher at the University of New Delhi in India teaching a course for a little extra money.  Since Michael lived in Florida, it was a rough time difference.

Groaning, Michael sat up in bed and grabbed his VR glasses off the nightstand. Slipping them on, he activated his info streams.  Studies have shown that a normal person can manage between 5 to 7 pieces of information simultaneously.  His glasses were rather full this morning.

“Good morning Michael” said a female voice in his ear.  “There are three JIT sessions and one contract job this morning you might be interested in.”  That was his personal AI, Charlene.  A personal AI was something kind of new, but he was getting used to her.  She was always there watching everything he did.  After a few months of observing it seemed she was always anticipating his needs. Today she was suggesting several JITs or Just-In-Time learning courses.  These were independent courses offered online by the thousands.  For just a few dollars he could join one.  Many were AI packaged course modules, but sometimes they were actual people he could connect to for a few hours.  One class seemed to have a good social index rating so he flagged it for later study. This means the teacher has a good reputation online with his social network.  Bad teachers and courses didn’t survive very long. Word got around fast.

He checked in with his Guild.  Now he was in college he had chosen a course of study but, unlike students from 10 years ago he wasn’t seeking a degree.  In fact degrees didn’t exist anymore.  They were too blunt of an instrument for employers to find new talent.  Besides, with a life expectancy of around 100 years, it was silly to think he could learn everything he needed from just one school in just four years.  Right now Michael was taking courses from 5 different providers.  Three of them were actual universities doing research, and one was a biotech company who wanted to scout prospective employees, so they offered a course to do some recruiting.  The last provider was, of course, his Guild.  His main area of study so far was biotech related.  He had a really good online reputation in his “high school” years and finished his required topics a year early.  Therefore, he was recruited last year by a high level Biotech Guild.  This Guild was a group of independent, experienced biotech engineers and designers.  This means they were contract workers and didn’t work exclusively for any one company. They were always looking for good talent and recruited right out of the late teen years.  They provided additional exclusive schooling for their members, not to mention they provided the credentialing he needed to build his reputation in the field and get jobs.  Companies contracted with the Guild.  More experienced people cost more but many companies preferred this now.  They didn’t have to keep large staff on the payroll and could respond to changing market conditions on a day to day basis. The best part about being part of the Guild though, was he was connected with some of the top people in his field and had special access to tutoring and mentoring.  In return for the Guild’s support, Michael was obligated to work with them for a certain amount of time.

Today Michael saw he was scheduled for an afternoon lab at the local community college.  The instructor wasn’t going to be present of course, but Michael needed access to a biolab.  His Guild had arranged to rent time at the college so he could do his lab work.  He could have done it with a simulation, but his Guild preferred he do the real thing today.

As he was getting dressed he had a quick conversation with his Guild mentor Weng Lu in China. She didn’t speak English but her words were translated on the fly by his computer.  On the fly voice translation had opened up the world for learning.  Now he could take hundreds of thousands of courses in a hundred different languages with classmates from around with world.

While eating breakfast he checked the latest from his Personal Learning Network.  This was a group of several thousand people who had similar interests. If they saw an interesting story they flagged it for the group.  He was getting information that took hundreds of man-hours to find and filter, but it just took him a few seconds to digest.  He saw a few interesting items and added them to the stream himself.  His AI saw his interest in a new biotech process, and quietly added that interest to his school agenda.  In a few days he would be presented with some courses of study about that topic.

His areas of study were influenced by many sources.  His Guild had certain suggested courses he had to take.  Employers were always putting out lists of particular skills that changed on an almost daily basis.  His own interests were input as well.  Finally, the government had certain requirements for every citizen.  Because of all these inputs, Michael’s learning was customized specifically for him.  The days of teaching a large group of people the exact same thing was long past.  In fact if you were to summarize his schooling, you would say it was personalized, lifelong and interesting!

As Michael got ready to take a shower he saw the quick contract job his Guild had passed along to him.  A company had asked his Guild for some outside the box thinking on a new product they were developing.  The Guild passed it along to several of their new members because new people were especially valuable for new thinking.  The job didn’t pay much but it would only take 15 minutes and would count as class credit.  He pondered it while he took a shower and then submitted his ideas to the AI who passed them on to the Guild.

Michael thought about his sister Stephanie and wondered what she was learning about today.  School was so much more fun now especially in the younger years.  It seems hard to believe but some people used to think that enjoyment didn’t matter for learning.  Now he was involved with interesting projects that let him get hands on with cutting edge research. He was taking classes from sources on three continents with classmates from four.  Education was exciting, and he looked forward to it each day.

Finally he was dressed. He grabbed his coat and left the house. The robot taxi would be there in 90 seconds.



  1. Andrew – Do you think that credentialing as we know it will disappear in 10 years? IE, MIT, Standford, others have their curriculum online for free. Credentials cost so much money but do they hold meaning? Shouldn’t employers / society simply value what people know, can do, what they’re learning rather than the name of the university on a piece of paper? Your guild idea could become the new “class of 2020” – self forming, self managing “classes” of learners. Thought provoking for sure.

    • Well the way I see it, a college degree is a standardized credential that assumes a standardized product (student). This assumption was necessary 50 years ago because we didn’t have any other ways of assessing large quantities of workers. Companies have often tried to assess prospective employees. For example, game companies give their prospects a test on coding.

      Businesses are limiting their talent pool if they rely on college degrees only. I imagine there will be much better ways to do it shortly. The trend right now is toward less numbers of more productive employees so there will be more emphasis will be on quality.

      By the way, I’m not saying degrees will go away completely, but they will be for much smaller chunks of information, rather than a 4 year chunk. These will only be a part of your overall credentialing.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great post Andrew, I look forward to re-reading this post in 2020 to find out how close you are! I think you are on the right track with your thinking about higher education sans degrees. It is silly now to think about a degree being an adequate measure that you are prepared for the work force, I can only imagine how much more silly it will seem as jobs continue to transform and change daily.

    • Oh geez you are going to hold me to it? 🙂

      It would be a lot easier to predict if it was only a technology question but it’s also politics and government, two things that are not known for their innovations.

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