People often talk about how technology is changing education, but they don’t always have a clear framework for why or how technology is changing education.

A number of shifts have happened concurrently, but here are three things that have modified the game: 

1. Social media shifted the way we connect and communicate.

Social media facilitates digital connection without hierarchical separation. Geography, age, time zones, income, and social stature no longer matter when it comes to messaging.

By nature, social media is visual, making what everyone is thinking visible to the world. We can see what was previously hidden whether profound or mundane. (Who is connected to whom or how many lattes are consumed.)

We can’t discount the incredible power or that visual connection. For the first time in history, we can connect the whole world into what is going on. For all of the curmudgeonly complaints about how we are “more disconnected than ever,” for people raised with the technology, it simply isn’t true.

Our previous forms of educational buildings were based on geographic separation and hierarchies. Social media has removed them. The barriers are not there anymore.

2. Crowdsourcing shifted how things get done.

The second thing that happened was the rise of crowd sourcing. Suddenly, we now have the ability to leverage the collective intelligence of the world, group sourcing collective intelligence to solve problems. Historically, we gathered a few smart people together in a physical room to solve a complicated problem, and they’d work on it, but in a digitally connected world, we can apply all of the intellect rapidly to solve issues. So, if previously, you had ten people working a problem. Now you could have 10,000 people, 100,000 people, a million people solving a problem.

We have solutions such as: Apache, Uber, Kickstarter, Wikipedia (which I seriously never thought would work). All of these programs and others have permanently changed the way we work.

It’s a complete re-engineering of everything that we know.

3. The Rise of the Machine – The internet of things (ioT)

The third big shift was the rise of the machine. The internet of things. The connected devices. In 2020, there will be some 50 billion devices connected together. Virtually every machine around us is connected. Your phone, your computer, your car, the traffic system, your home, your office building…

It isn’t just connected in throwing out data that you absorb. Instead, it is data that drives action and behavior. Everyone wearing a Fitbit or Apple Watch experiences this daily. It pings you to tell you: “Step it up. Get out and do something. Breathe.”

What happens, when you notice a buddy in your group has already logged over 10,000 steps and you are sitting there at only 6,000? You’re going to go out for a run so you can beat him.

It’s data that drives behavior.

How these drivers are impacting buildings for education

When I went to college, we all sat in little lines.  Nice straight rows. The professor was at the front of the room. (Some readers will remember this.)

There was a clear hierarchy. The professor had all of the knowledge, and we had none of the knowledge. When the professor was ready, he would talk. We would listen, and write it down.

It was a pretty simple relationship.

Now things are different. In the more progressive universities and high schools, students sit in rooms with multimedia screens all the way around the space. The students sit at round tables, with computers all connected together with collaborative software for project-based learning in teams. They connect and communicate with people within and outside of the classroom following the communication patterns shifted by social media.

The teacher—instead of being at a podium—walks around the room with a tablet. A student no longer suffers trying to solve a problem by himself. Instead, the student connects to his buddy. He drags and drops content over to her screen, and they jointly solve a problem.

The teacher provides counsel and input. If she sees something particularly innovative, she might drag it up onto the screen while the whole class crowdsources a solution.

There is no longer a stage. Any student can access the microphone or project a visual. The teacher is moved from being the “sage on the stage”, to now being a mentor—a very different relationship.

Currently, we learn in buildings.

Those buildings can be equipped with sensors and data systems that collect information about the living, breathing people that work inside of it. The feedback from that data can influence how you behave and operate as a group to get desired outcomes.

It might tell you how to repurpose your building in the future. To build bigger or smaller—if at all.


The shift moving forward

Over the next 20 years, we’re going to see things we’ve never seen before.

The students about to enter the buildings we design will be a group able to communicate worldwide, who can combine their collective intelligence with the data of connected machinery.

This is unprecedented.

What we have is potential for an explosive cocktail of learning and productivity. We will get a drive of resources, ideas and economic output that is dramatic.

Educational buildings of the future will either enable the shift or inhibit it. It is our job as designers to make sure the buildings we design focus on that future, instead of being driven by precedent.