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Please read and reflect on the two articles by Thornburg. As you read the articles, reflect on when this was written and where we are now with educational technology. 200 words required.


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The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be
Comments to Citicorp on emerging trends relating to education by
David D. Thornburg, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Congressional Institute for the Future
Contents copyrighted, ©, 1997, The Thornburg Center. All Rights Reserved.
Futurists do not predict the future for the simple reason that the most exciting
things likely to happen in the coming years will be driven by developments that
have yet to be discovered. These new innovations are called wild cards, and we live
in a time when wild cards are emerging at an unprecedented rate. So what can I do
to develop a useful overview of the coming years? The best I can offer is a glimpse
of some emerging trends — things that have already happened, but have yet to
blossom to their full potential. As science fiction author William Gibson has said,
“The future already arrived, it just wasn’t evenly distributed.” In is in this spirit
that I offer the following comments and observations.
First, I’d like to share a quotation from Professor Ikujiro Nonaka at UC Berkeley:
The dynamics of knowledge have become the most important competitive resource
of the firm.
Notice that he is suggesting it is the rate of change in the information, not the
information itself that is the the important factor today. Given the incredible rate at
which things are changing, this is wise advice. Many years ago a similar idea was
expressed by the longshoreman/philosopher Eric Hoffer when he said:
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned
usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
I’ll have more to say on this topic later, but suffice it to say that lifelong learning
needs to become the dominant paradigm for education if our institutions are going
to remain relevant in the lives of their students.
It is often said that what you earn is determined by what you learn. We recently
conducted a study based on data from the US Census bureau in which we examined
median salaries for high-school dropouts, high-school graduates, those with some
college, bachelor’s recipients, and those who have advanced degrees, for the period
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from 1975 to 1994. While it has always been the case that median salaries have
increased with increased educational level, the gap is widening. For example, in
1975 the salary gap between highest and lowest educated in the US was 2.6:1. By 1994
the gap had increased to over 4:1. More interestingly, the median salary of highschool dropouts has leveled off while the salaries for college graduates and those
with advanced degrees is accelerating away from the rest. The results would be even
more spectacular had we adjusted the data for inflation. Details of this work
appeared in another white paper entitled “Learning a Living,” available on our Web
site (
Our society is being squeezed between two compounding trends: an increase at the
speed with which information is doubling (currently estimated to be 22 months),
and the collapse of the information float — the time between a discovery and its
application in the commercial marketplace. These trends provide the sensation that
time is collapsing. For example, many people who use the World Wide Web seem
surprised to find that the Web is only a few years old. It seems like we have had it
for a long time. An advertisement by Semantec that appeared in mid-1997 said:
“Are you still designing Web pages the way they did way back in 1996?” While the
intent was humorous, the rapid advances in authoring software reveals a hidden
truth — the world is changing quickly, especially in the high-tech arena.
Survival in a period of rapid change requires an openness to rethinking our
concepts of time itself. For example, the industrial revolution was very much
influenced by the concept of linear time. Work schedules were driven by the clock.
Time clocks, steam whistles, etc. set the pace for work and education in the society of
that time.
Today it is probably worth examining a chaotic model of time — one based on the
evolution of non-linear systems that increasingly describe current reality. Two
aspects of chaos theory are relevant here. The first is the extreme sensitivity of nonlinear systems to initial conditions — the so-called “butterfly effect” (in which it is
suggested that a butterfly flapping its wings in Taiwan can cause a tropical storm in
the Caribbean), and the existence of “strange attractors,” states in which complex
systems can settle that are extremely resistant to change.
For an example of a “strange attractor” in the real world, consider the keyboard
arrangement on today’s computers. In general, this arrangement is the same one
used in the original commercial typewriter developed by C. Latham Sholes in the
1800’s. This arrangement of keys (often called QWERTY after the first six letters of
the top letter row) was designed to make typing difficult in order to prevent the type
bars from jamming. Even though we no longer use mechanical type bars, and far
better keyboard arrangements exist, most people persist in using this antique key
arrangement because the perceived barrier to change is so high, it is not worth the
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According to Regis McKenna, author of Real Time (published in 1997), the nature of
innovation has changed markedly as we entered our current period of rapid change.
Prior to 1975, he suggests that innovations took place under the control of large
institutions, and that these innovations were slowly diffused into the marketplace
where they were finally accepted by the public at large. Henry Ford, for example,
said you could have any color you wanted on his cars as long as it was black.
But, according to McKenna, all this changed starting around 1975. Innovations are
more likely to take place today in small dynamic organizations, or to be created by
individuals working alone. Small enterprises can bring innovations to market
quickly where they are accepted by society, leaving the old established institutions to
respond or not.
To see just one small example of this new trend, consider that the personal
computer market went from zero to $100 billion per year in sales in the period from
1980 to 1990. This is the fastest growing market in history — and it is one that was
virtually ignored by the established computer companies until the mid-1980’s. It
was upstarts like Apple and others who created this industry. IBM, DEC and others
had no concept of the power of personal computing in the early 1980’s, and actively
argued against the future of this technology!
Similar events are happening today. In the area of sales, for example, companies
like Dell and Cisco Systems are selling their products directly from their Web sites.
By November, 1997, Dell was selling over three million dollars worth of computers
from their Web site a day. Cisco, a manufacturer of network routing equipment,
was selling three times that amount, and will probably rack up over three billion
dollars in sales from their Web site for fiscal 1997 — about 40% of their total sales!
By having customers specify, in detail, the desired configuration of their systems,
companies like Dell and Cisco are able to implement just-in-time manufacturing -mass-customization — using factories driven by verbs, not nouns. One way to
handle inventory management is not to have any inventory. This is Dell’s
approach. Their factory is virtually devoid of nouns — inventories of parts and
finished computers. Instead, parts are ordered for each machine being built, and as
soon as the computer is assembled and tested, it is boxed and placed on the FedEx
truck for delivery. All you see in a factory like this is verbs — computers in the
process of assembly and testing.
Transformations of this magnitude reach far beyond manufacturing — they reach
into the service sector as well, and even have a potential impact on education, as we
will see later.
The driving force for transformations of this magnitude comes from the digital
tornado sweeping across the planet — the telematic revolution typified by the rapid
popularization of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Continued advances in
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the technologies of silicon chips and broadband communications feed this digital
Chip complexity is continuing to advance at a rate predicted by Moore’s Law -named after Intel’s Gordon Moore who observed that the capabilities of silicon chips
were doubling every 18 months. This geometric growth rate is expected to continue
well into the next century. The result is that the small chip inside today’s
throwaway musical greeting card has more computing power in it than existed in
the entire world prior to 1950. The ubiquity of this technology is such that there are
40 million transistors in operation today for every person on the planet.
The bandwidth revolution is in its infancy, at least as far as implementation at the
consumer level is concerned, but even so, the World Wide Web is doubling in size
every few months, and the Internet has extended its reach to most countries on the
The effect of ubiquity, driven by lowered cost and increased reach, is to create a new
network-based economy — one in which value is inversely related to cost. Consider,
for example, the high cost of the original fax machines, and the low value associated
with them because so few people had them. By manufacturing fax machines that
can be sold for under $200, this technology has become commonplace, increasing its
value to those who want to fax a message to someone else. Bob Metcalfe, inventor
of the Ethernet, has suggested that the power of a network increases by the square of
the number of users. Metcalfe’s Law, combined with Moore’s Law, provide the
continuing impetus for the increased use of networked systems, and for some deep
economic changes that result from the resulting digital tornado.
An what of the impact of this digital tornado on education?
This is the first time in history that the student, teacher and content do not have to
be in the same place at the same time. I don’t think very many people have grasped
this yet. Once they do, the face of education at every level may change in some
profound ways.
Instead we are seeing new tools being used to replicate old educational models.
Instead of a solitary teacher lecturing to a single class of 30 students, for example,
some teachers are using broadband distance learning tools to deliver boring lectures
to many thousands of students simultaneously.
It need not be this way.
The educational models of the past operated on the assumption that content was
king. In fact, content is free and overwhelming in size. In a world of rapid
information growth, it is context that matters. Context is king. This means that
learners at all ages need to master two very important skills. The first is the ability
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to locate information specifically related to the question they are exploring, and the
second is to establish the veracity and utility of this information. These are nontrivial skills — ones that librarians have long honored, but which are often lost on
the public at large and, tragically, lost on some educators as well. The richness of
high-quality educational Web sites such as the Library of Congress or NASA is free
for all who have a grasp of these skills. Without them, the Web reverts to another
piece of “thumb candy,” a video-game-like experience that may be pleasurable, but
not necessarily of great educational value.
This is important today because I believe that 1998 will be the year of the Internet
appliance. In addition to the large number of current Web users who gain access
through their personal computers, we will see increased use of Network Computers
in offices, as well as the increased proliferation of these devices in public settings
such as 7-Eleven Stores. Devices like WebTV may start to show up in homes,
although the greatest growth in home use will probably come from cable companies
providing high-speed alternatives to voice-grade telephone line connections to the
Net through services such as @Home.
The other realm of Internet appliances is the hand-held computer systems that are
dropping in price, increasing in performance, and providing direct access to the Web
either through existing telephone lines or through wireless services. These devices
range from the latest Nokia cellular phone to the Game.Com system from Tiger
Toys that retails for under $100.
Once Web access starts to achieve the kind of ubiquity associated with televisions
and telephones, it will support a transition in education from a “Just in Case” to a
“Just in Time” paradigm.
Consider the current curriculum in most schools. Students are still being taught a
lot of information without any need to apply this information in a meaningful way.
They are taught things just in case they will need them later. For example, when is
the last time you needed to take the square root of a large number by hand?
Consider the shift to just-in-time learning where context is ever present.
Something is learned because it is needed to answer a larger question. This
transformation has already taken place in a few schools, but it needs to become more
widespread if our schools are to remain relevant to their students.
Given the lifelong nature of learning in our world of rapid information growth,
educational systems should stop thinking in terms of K-12, or college, and move
instead to the concept of educational maintenance organizations, or “EMO’s.” Why
is it that the only time we hear from our colleges after graduation is when they want
money? Why don’t they continue to offer educational services to us for a lifetime?
The only educational organizations in the US currently equipped to do this are our
community colleges. This needs to change.
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It needs to change for two reasons — first, because it is what the students need. The
second reason is that EMO’s will spring up on the Web. The Open University in the
UK has been in business since the 1960’s, and is using the Web to extend its reach
globally. Other new colleges are being designed with virtual campuses, offering
their courses to students on a global scale, and providing mass-customization as
well. Peter Drucker has said that the bricks and mortar colleges are doomed.
Perhaps he is right. Unless our institutions aggressively reinvent themselves, his
prediction may come true sooner than later.
As Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, once said,
When the rate of change inside an institution is less than the rate of change outside,
the end is in sight.
Business and education face a future filled with rapid change. It is up to each
institution to decide how it will respond.
Author notes: Dr. Thornburg is Director of the Thornburg Center and Senior
Fellow of the Congressional Institute for the Future. As a consultant for both
education and business, he is active in exploring the skill sets needed by highly
skilled workers in the coming years.
His work on educational futures and the use of emerging technologies has resulted
in several workshops, including one on Thinking Skills for the 21st Century.
Information on this, and other, programs can be found at the Thornburg Center
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David D. Thornburg
Director, Thornburg Center
How Do We Envision The Future Of Technology In K-12 Education?
Ø What should the future role of technology in education be?
In his book, Electric Language: Understanding the Message, Canadian media theorist, Eric
McLuhan said:
“Animals evolve by incorporating into their bodies new technology, whether by growing
longer teeth or by modifying their digestive systems. Human evolution works in the
opposite manner. With the first inventions, human evolution suddenly shifted from the
realm of biology to that of technology. Animals incorporated; we discorporated. We
extended into the environment various parts of the body, various limbs and organs and,
with electricity, the central nervous system. Most recently, computer technology and its
children now extend around the globe the hemispheres and other elements and organs of
the brain. It remains only to extend the mind itself.”
Our topic is the role of technology in education, more specifically computer and communication
technologies which have combined to create the telematic revolution bursting into virtually every aspect of
our homes, workplaces, and schools. By thinking of technologies in the broader sense as extensions of
mankind, we give ourselves the capacity to see both the power and the opportunity these new tools afford.
Their power comes not just from the fact that technologies allow us to do old jobs in new ways, but that
they can be used to help us do things in education that were heretofore impossible. We have the
opportunity to use technologies in ways that support modern pedagogical thought devoted to the premise
that all are capable of learning, even if the pathways for each learner are different.
This observation leads to two important ideas:
1. How you use technology in education is more important than if you use it at all.
2. Unless our thinking about education is transformed along with our continuing expansion of
telematic technology into the classrooms, our technology investment will fail to live up to its
Learning does not take place better or faster simply by replacing one instructional medium with
another. The effective use of technology in education requires thought, experimentation, and a willingness
to spend the time needed to develop and refine strategies until they are proven to be effective. Patience is
important; it takes time to see the results of our efforts.
The topic of educational technology is especially important today. Throughout history education
has been impacted by three major inventions:
1. the phonetic alphabet
2. printing
3. telematics (computers connected to networks)
While we have had computers in classrooms for many years now, they have yet to be used in
ways that assist in radically transforming the very structure of education. But, just as education was
transformed by the invention of writing, and again by the invention of the printing press, it will be
transformed by the telematic revolution as well. What better time can we imagine to launch this third
transformation than the start of a new millennium?
Education serves many purposes in our society and these purposes have changed over the years
as we have grown from a cluster of colonies to assume the leadership role in the global economy.
Throughout time, the core purpose of education was to insure that our citizens had the skills they needed to
actively participate in a democratic society. As Thomas Jefferson said: “I look to the diffusion of light
and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and
advancing the happiness of man.”
As we complete the twentieth century and prepare for the twenty-first, it is important to realize
that our world is far different from the one which existed a hundred years ago. In the 19th century, a
largely agrarian workforce existed alongside an emergent industrial economy powered by muscle, water
and steam. Since the turn of this century, we have had the flight of airplanes, commercial radio
broadcasts, television, the invention of modern computer technologies, the emergence of new sciences
(e.g., bioinformatics, chaos and complexity) and a continued rapid increase in the development of new
information in a myriad of fields and endeavors.
But while it can be argued that information has been growing at exponential rates since the Middle
Ages, the key element of the past fifty years has been the exponential growth of …
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