Education and Learning Possibilities by the Year 2030

The Millennium Project has conducted the study Education and Learning Possibilities by the Year 2030 in 2006-2007. The inputs were collected using the Real-Time Delphi technique.

The purpose of the study was to provide a global picture of potential futures of education and learning, which were to be used as an input to the new Vision of Korea for 2030 report to the Ministry of Education. However, our study addressed education in a global sense, not specific Korean issues as such. The results of the study were published in the State of the Future. and are also available on the Global Futures Intelligence System website (under "Research", select 'Education and Learning 2030'. Following is a short overview and summary of the results.


2030 is 23 years from now (The study was conducted in 2007).

Looking back over the past 23 years can give a sense of the rapidity and magnitude of the changes we experience today and that are likely to accelerate in the future. Twenty-three years ago it was 1984. In 1984 how many would have believed that the Republic of Korea by 2007 would successfully compete with the United States in some areas of the transportation, information, and communications industries? Or that its economy would be larger than Russia’s? Or that many of the world’s brightest youth would be playing computer games created in Korea? The rate of change over the past 23 years seems very fast to many people today, yet the factors that made those changes are accelerating. As a result the changes over the next 23 years will be even greater.

In 1984 there was no European Union, World Trade Organization, International Criminal Court, Space Shuttles serving Russian and American astronauts in the International Space Station, millions of people searching billions of references in less than a second, or cloned sheep. 23 years ago what Ministry of Education had the objective of connecting their school children to the Internet? What Ministry of Education had the objective of preparing students to participate in the global knowledge economy?

Imagine two countries back in 1984. Both were about the same in all things except that one declared a national objective of cooperating with international computer networks to connect their educational systems into an international knowledge system in order to improve education for all in their country. Now, 23 years later – today – which country would be in a better position for the emerging global knowledge economy? And which country would have produced more students ready for today’s complexities and opportunities?

Today educational policymakers face the same kind of choices: to look far ahead seeking emerging educational opportunities or just make moderate innovations that appear creative. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development of the Republic of Korea has requested this international assessment of future possibilities for education and learning by the year 2030 to help inform them of their choices for setting better long-range educational policies.

What might surprise us today about 2030?

If we don’t know that something is possible, then we will not try to make it happen.

What are some of the educational and learning possibilities by the year 2030? What might we do today to take advantage of these emerging possibilities? Since the implementation of new ideas can turn out differently than expected, it is also wise to ask what could make them turn negatively as well as positively.

To answer these questions, the Millennium Project reviewed futurist thought to design a Real Time Delphi which collected the judgments of 213 experts around the world, selected by the Nodes of the Millennium Project.

This study assessed 19 possibilities:
1. National programs for improving collective intelligence
2. Just-in-time knowledge and learning
3. Individualized education
4. Use of simulations
5. Continuous evaluation of individual learning processes designed to prevent people from growing unstable and/or becoming mentally ill.
6. Improved individual nutrition
7. Genetically increased intelligence
8. Use of global on-line simulations as a primary social science research tool
9. Use of public communications to reinforce pursuit of knowledge
10. Portable artificial intelligence devices
11. Complete mapping of human synapses to discover how learning occurs and thereby develop strategies for improvement of learning
12. Means for keeping adult brains healthier for longer periods
13. Chemistry for brain enhancement
14. Web 17.0
15. Integrated life-long learning systems
16. Programs aimed at eliminating prejudice and hate
17. E-Teaching
18. Smarter than human computers
19. Artificial microbes enhancing intelligence

These possibilities present a broad array of policy choices and options which can inform the policy-making process. Each possibility was rated by an international panel in terms of its likelihood. These average ratings by the international panel gave 14 of the possibilities better than 50% chance that they will occur. Figure 1 presents the possibilities in rank order by average likelihood.

Figure 1: Likelihood of Education Possibilities––year 2030

If educational policymakers believe these results, then what steps should policymakers consider today?

To answer this, the respondents were encouraged to provide judgments about factors that could help or hinder the possibilities, and assuming they occurred, to conjecture about consequences that might follow.

As Moore's Law continues to be valid over the new 23 years, portable intelligent devices could have the processing power of the human brain. Individuals would access the world's knowledge that has been integrated by Web 17.0 for "just-in-time knowledge and learning", using simulations with virtual reality interfaces adapted to individuals' unique needs throughout their lives. Continuous evaluation of individual learning processes designed to prevent people from growing unstable and/or becoming mentally ill, along with programs aimed at eliminating prejudice and hate could bring about a more beautiful, loving world.

In parallel, brain function should also be dramatically increased by improved personal nutrition and brain enhancement pharmaceuticals. Insights from partial mapping of the human brain and other methods could dramatically increase personal intelligence and longevity by 2030. More remotely in the future, brains may be genetically enhanced and designer bacteria could make the brain cells work more efficiently. With the use of public communications to reinforce the pursuit of knowledge and the use of these learning innovations and educational concepts, individual and collective intelligence of societies could be improved.

Advances throughout history have created gaps between early adapters who can afford the initially higher costs and those who are less able to afford the advances. Many participants in this study warned that serious efforts will have to be made to prevent dangerous knowledge/intelligence gaps leading to unstable conditions. Policymakers should develop ways to encourage broad democratic usage of these new powers without letting their abuse by the few to disadvantage the many. Over the last several years, the digital gap has begun to narrow, giving hope that greater decentralization, access, transparency, and proliferation of feedback mechanisms can address these concerns. Although many comments from the international panel could be grouped into advances for individual learning or group learning, the overall picture of the future is so extraordinarily rich and complex that both approaches can be accommodated.

Analysis Summary

The study questionnaire presented the participants with a list of 19 future education and learning possibilities and asked for:

  • Estimates of the likelihood that the possibilities would be realized by 2030.
  • Factors that might encourage or discourage the possibilities
  • Consequences, both favorable and unfavorable, that might follow the achievement of the possibilities
  • Other possibilities that might be added to the list.

The developments found to be most likely (> 70%) were:

  • Web 17.0
  • Integrated life-long learning systems
  • Chemistry for brain enhancement
  • Just-in-time knowledge and learning
  • Use of public communications to reinforce pursuit of knowledge
  • Use of simulations

And the least likely were judged to be (< 40%):

  • Genetically increased intelligence
  • Artificial microbes enhance intelligence

Several suggestions were received for other developments that might be added to the list. (See Appendix) These generally fell into the following four categories:

  • Curriculum (e.g. teach morals, rational scientific thinking)
  • Methods and Tools (e.g. universal translators, contests involving student projects)
  • Administration and Institutions (e.g. tapping the capacity of groups, tele-commuting)
  • The Students (e.g. early childhood development, flattening of the demographic pyramid)

The respondents made many contributions when commenting on the factors that might encourage or inhibit the possibilities and their possible consequences. (See Appendix) In general, these comments raised questions about:

  • The costs and distribution of advantageous possibilities.
  • How the developments might conflict with culture and thus affect their acceptability.
  • The threat of unexpected consequences (particularly for biologic possibilities)
  • The use of the developments to promote evil intent
  • The reactionary impediments by existing institutions

There were some 274 people who signed in, and of these 213 provided at least one answer to the questionnaire (77.7%). Almost half (48%) of the people who answered at least one question visited the site more than once. Some of the people who visited the site more than once did so many times, the record (excluding the organizers) being a dozen.

Each participant, on the average, answered about 11 questions. The maximum number of answers to any question was about 181 and the minimum, about 100. (See Section 8 for details on the sample).

While every possibility in the study had its supporters and detractors, the levels of agreement about likelihood were generally high. It was found that agreement was highest at the highest and lowest likelihood extremes and lowest in the middle range of likelihood.

Among the key conclusions are:

It is possible that the advances discussed in this study will not be available to all students, thus creating gaps in knowledge and capacities that are not present today. The lack of universal availability may be due to cost, political pressures (including the politics of academia), or reactions from existing institutions.

Since some political regimes will view new educational capacities as a threat to their power, one can expect that some of these techniques will be outlawed or distorted to perpetuate the existing regimes, ideologies, and belief structures in various places in the world.

The advent of learning enhancing drugs may result in a drug competition race and raise questions about the distribution and the ethics of charging for so important a commodity.

It is possible that an international competition in intelligence may develop.

The shift to a collective intelligence appears to be already underway, as evidenced by (paraphrasing one respondent) mass on-line collaboration, open source software, knowledge creation communities, and social sharing of learning resource (e.g., Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, and SecondLife) often without overt individual financial compensation or incentives.

The drive toward collective intelligence may give rise to its counterforce and effort by outstanding individuals to opt out of the “collective” (anti-borg).

Developments lead to their counter developments and safeguards, even in education. For example the advent of portable artificial intelligence devices may lead to a 'race' to build portable 'anti-artificial intelligence devices' to protect oneself as an individual.

Improvements in intelligence will make even the bad guys smarter.

A “trickle down” strategy might be exploited to obtain new educational technologies; one respondent said, for example: “Standard data and simulation formats … allow cut-down versions of scientific simulations to be used in education.“ Perhaps the military and industry could be “mined” for similar applications.

When teaching goes on line, computer hacking into the curriculum and information will be an issue.

Just-in-time information can make everyone who has access look like an expert and true expertise will become hard to find and take on new meaning.

Since nutrition is "natural" compared to (say) cognition enhancement drugs, it is likely to be easier to accept for many.

Cultural differences may lead one nation to adopt technologies and practices that lead to increased intelligence while other countries reject them based on cultural taboos or beliefs.

Rather than being used to enhance the intelligence of many people, genetic techniques might be used to remove or modify genes that result in lower intelligence.

Any intervention may have unexpected medical and social consequences.

Attempts to change curricula will inevitably bring questions about the ideologies that drive the changes.

Respondents raised interesting and important questions about some of these possibilities:

Can simulations be so real and captivating that real life looses its significance?

Will intelligent machines think and reason in ways that are different than human thinking?

Will people migrate to countries that offer a means of increasing intelligence?

Does everybody become smarter, or does the gap grow?

Are the less intelligent made smarter, thereby raising the average or is everybody boosted?


Newly Suggested Developments

The RT Delphi form offered the participants the opportunity to suggest other possibilities that might be included in a list of potential 2030 changes. Some significant suggestions offered by the respondents (edited) appear below. A complete list is in Appendix available on GFIS.

  • Teaching of morals, routine measurement of characteristics other than intelligence (e.g. emotional intelligence) will be commonplace.
  • Emphasis on the need to learn how to learn. Not merely the acquisition of new facts and inputs, but the capacity to discard the unnecessary and to transform the useful information into effective and productive realities.
  • I think that much more emphasis has to be given to ethical considerations. Some of the new technologies might produce a significant "yuck" factor and will make some people talk about the dangers of "playing God."By 2030 cross-cultural and cross-religious teachings should be available, if only to enable young minds to build their own opinions and make their personal decisions in these crucially "formative" areas.
  • Training in rational scientific thinking will be part of basic educationWith a quickly globalizing world, more consideration should be giving to tolerance and understanding of different cultures. Religions themselves will be under increasing threats, and most other basic beliefs will have to be reconsidered among countries.
  • Truth will not come anymore from religion but from science.
  • Future studies are necessary since human action is future-oriented, to the extent that it is goal-oriented.
  • It strikes me that the words “culture" and "religion" are totally absent at this point. By 2030 (hopefully), cross-cultural and cross-religious teachings should be available, if only to enable young minds to build their own opinions and make their personal decisions in these crucially "formative" areas.
  • We will take issues like the teaching of wisdom much more seriously.
  • A particular area of immediate improvement could be to give each infant the opportunity to develop at least 2 languages in their first 2 years of life (see Pinker for details). Natural multi-lingualism (as opposed to the much more difficult and less effective (but prevalent) path of learning other languages after the "infant window" has closed) has many other benefits for the development of individuals, including social benefits related to the early recognition of different cultures, etc...
Methods and Tools
  • Virtual Reality simulations will extend to learning history in simulated, historically-accurate settings.
  • Learning and education can be integrated in movies, games, and music in order to integrate learning and leisure. In this way a huge number of students can be reached, who in the "normal" education system is lost
  • The use of brain imaging to fine-tune education by actually testing what modes of teaching work best.
  • Universal translators available will make education international and global.
  • Contests on specific projects to be performed by school students
  • Live television brainstorming sessions with open participation from the audience
  • Social simulations will guide political decisions
  • Increased use of gaming including on-line games for learning
    Global access to internet becomes one of the global development goals
  • Artificial intelligence-based software and devices would recreate, interpret, and analyze extinct languages. These would enhance enormously issues, facts, etc. not yet understood by pre-2030 times. Studies in History, Archeology, Egyptology, etc would be extremely buoyed by this technology.
  • The developments in research of mental techniques [hypnosis, suggestion, and extrasensory perception] bring revolutionary improvements of human learning capacities.
  • The right to equal access to information becomes one of the globally recognized human rights.By 2030 knowledge might be unified in one universal knowledge base, in the form of modular units with a management tool so that every student could download what they need. The management tool will bring together only the contents of all necessary units in one document to create a new book that consumer will order.
  • Sub-100 dollar student computing devices which will provide the building blocks/foundation for individualized instruction
  • Artificial microbes totally un-harmful to humans would add specific and temporary comprehension capabilities to an individual: i.e. pre-programmed artificial microbes labeled "PT" would permit an individual to temporarily understand and speak fluently the Portuguese language.
Administration and Institutions
  • The State must guarantee inclusion of all of society first and specially in the educational system-, to each member of the country. Then an equal standard of education can be guaranteed to everybody. Personally we are quite far away from many e-tools, technology and nanotechnology instruments that are very useful and can perfectly incorporate in the educational item.
  • Develop new models for collective knowledge and intelligence developments, a step ahead from cyberculture and towards a global brain and new stages of human consciousness
  • Organized individual learning is considered less important than tapping the capacity of groups and communities (and whole societies) to take in, evaluate, effectively use, and creatively transcend the existing knowledge relevant to a given situation, creating new, potentially more powerful knowledge in the process. The results of such group and community "collective intelligence" will be broadly available to all individuals and groups, which makes individual "education" (as we commonly think of it re broad learning the lessons of the past) obsolete.
    Knowledge per se will be less important than today as society will be less prone to promote new knowledge
  • The future that is being shaped by genetic engineering, weapons of mass destruction and unsustainable practices for the environment asks for a new spirituality for a transformation in human consciousness to cope with the global chaos and complexity. So, there may be a new relationship in the realm of education between teachers and students, or guru-disciple relationship that fosters a trustworthy effort to help accelerate change and prepare new citizens for a new future. New outcomes of teacher/student relationship could create new educational systems based on a new kind of learning cooperation.
  • Due to urban congestion and global warming, government and employers will make it very attractive for more parents to tele-commute, which will increase the number of children being home schooled with the aid of tele-education and virtual schools.
  • There may be a new relationship between teachers and students, a guru-disciple relationship; new teacher/student relationships could create new educational systems based on a new kind of learning cooperation.
  • The abolition of schools, home education becoming the norm.
  • There is a mismatch between the rigid structure of schools and the new technologies of learning.
  • Education will become more privatized.
  • Education methods will be more equalized worldwide (e.g. globalizing of education)
  • Due to urban congestion and global warming, government and employers will make it very attractive for more parents to tele-commute, which will increase the number of children being home schooled with the aid of tele-education and virtual schools.
  • Countries will recognize with status and pay human teachers in all areas who act as mentors and source of inspiration for life and learning
The Students
  • Flattening of the demographic pyramid (more and more people are becoming older, living much longer, and having fewer children) will significantly change the population dynamics around the world. The education of the future has to seriously consider the relative shrinking of fresh, young, new people.
  • Much more should (and may by 2030) be done to recognize the crucial first 5 years of the development of the human brain/mind. It evolved to experience and understand all aspects of the real world, especially social behavior, dominated by the infant-mother bond. Yet we "protect" so many of our infants from that reality, restricting their experience to "safe havens" like prams, cots, nurseries, etc... Changing this approach will not only have a dramatic effect on individuals reaching closer to their potential level of intelligence, but will also significantly improve their physical and mental balance/health.


The full study is available in the State of the Future reports 2007 to 2012 and on the Global Futures Intelligence System (under "Research", select 'Education and Learning 2030').