Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15

There wasn’t a FOTE conference in 2015, which was a pity as it was one of my favourite annual events. I spoke at many of the conferences, most recently in 2014 when I spoke about the conflict between the light and the dark and used a Star Wars theme.

I remember reflecting on the conference on the way home that it would be a lot of fun to do a Back the Future themed talk for 2015.

Back to the Future

Alas it was never to be…

However I thought it might be a little fun to explore what might have been…

In the second film, 2015 was the future year that Marty and the Doc travelled to the in their flying Delorean. In that “future” 2015 as well as flying cars, we saw (proper) hoverboards, 3D holographic cinemas, self-drying clothes, auto-sneakers, large flat screen televisions, multiple screens and quite a few fax machines!

Back to the Future

Predicting the future is easy, getting it right, is much harder. part of the issue is that some things change quite rapidly and some things don’t change at all.

I thought it might be useful to look at education in 1955, 1985 and 2015 and see what has changed and what hadn’t. Then, in a somewhat dangerous move, predict where we would be in 2030!

I did think about if I could hire a Delorean for a video clip or even having it outside Senate House for the event.

Back to the Future

Back in 2005 at a couple of events I did a little presentation on predicting the future. I talked about how the internet and the web could potentially change the future. My methodology back then was to reflect where we had been ten years previously in 1995 and where we were now in 2005 and then predicting where we would be in 2015.

I did think that a similar idea would work well for a potential FOTE talk. For this blog post I am going to reflect where we were ten years ago in 2005, where we are now and potentially where we might be going in the next ten years!

In 2005, we didn’t have Twitter, we didn’t have Facebook, there was no Instagram or Snapchat. YouTube was created in 2005 (it was bought by Google in 2006).

In terms of hardware there was no iPhone, no iPads, there was no iOS, no Android. The best selling phone was the Nokia 1110, the smartphone to have at the time was the Nokia N73.

Nokia 1110

Most people used their phones to make phone calls and send texts. A minority of people used them to take poor quality photographs. 3G was a relatively new and expensive technology, I remember paying £100 a month for 1GB of data, today I pay a lot less for unlimited data on my phone.

We did have Moodle and Blackboard, but there many other LMS/VLE products available, which have now fallen by the wayside.

Educational technologies were in many ways still a specialism, it certainly wasn’t embedded into practice. We were only just discovering the potential of wiki tools and blogging was a real minority pursuit, with few few educational blogs out there. The interactive whiteboard was at the cutting edge of classroom technology and was seen as the answer to many pedagogical problems!

Now in 2015 we have moved on in so many different ways.

Blackboard and Moodle are still here, there are a few new entrants into the VLE market such as Canvas and Google Classroom, but in many ways the market has stabilised in terms of vendors, but still we have an ongoing discussion about if we should even be using a VLE!

Twitter and Facebook have been around since 2006 and are still going strong. YouTube is now huge and we have a range of other video services such as iTunes, iPlayer, Netflix, Sky+ much of which means that the humble video recorder has been consigned to the dustbin and DVDs and Blu-Rays are no longer the cutting edge of pre-recorded video!

The iPhone came along in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, since then both these products as well as Android which arrived in 2008, have revolutionised how we use mobile devices and what we use them for.

The phone is now so much more than a device for making calls, they are small computers and unlike other devices have grown in size.

Mobile Phone Sizes

Educational technologies have diversified and changed quite a bit in the last ten years. Some have even come and gone.

Google has a 70% market share of the search engine market and is a huge company with interests going far beyond simple web searching.

So where will be in 2025?

For the presentation I was going to pick three or four areas to think about and where they would be in ten years. It is always impossible to predict the future, we have no idea what will arrive, what will disappear and what will remain the same.

I know back in 2007 when Twitter became “big” there was a lot of thinking that it would grow big and then disappear, as usually happened with social networks at the time. Similar things were said about Facebook. It’s difficult to think that we wouldn’t have Facebook and Twitter in ten years time, but ten years ago I couldn’t see Woolworths (and many other retailers) shutting down even if we could see the writing on the wall for companies such as Blockbusters and Virgin Megastores with the growth in digital and Amazon. You could see tools such as Twitter become something akin to e-mail, more of a standard than a service, though there have been attempts in the past to do this. doesn’t necessarily mean they will fail in the future. Those early users of e-mail will now that it was very much a series of propriety providers and if you were on one system, you wouldn’t be able to e-mail people on a different system. Later there were also walled gardens like AOL which restricted access to and from their services. Could we see a standard for services such as Twitter, possibly in the next ten years.

In a similar vein many people but I don’t think we thought that streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Pandora and so on would have the impact they had has over the last few years. Back when the iTunes store opened in the UK in 2004, most people wanted to “own” their music, now we seem much happier to stream content on demand. Will this kind of model work within education, personally I think that is unlikely in the next ten years.

One interesting aspect that I think we can assume will continue is the use of and growth of mobile devices. 4G connections have improved the internet experience on these devices and even with a lot of free wifi out there, mobile connections will probably be the main connection for people and 5G is just around the corner. Hopefully it will continue to fall in price. In many ways the tablet era could be argued is at an end and we will see it fade away over the next ten years.

How big will phones be? Who knows, some would say that wearables will be the next big thing, like Google Glass, but Bluetooth headsets never really took off. It would appear people prefer to use the earbuds that came with the phone and hold the phone to their mouth. Why do they do that? Well they saw it on television!

My thoughts are that the VLE in itself will probably cease to exist as an independent tool, but will be much more a combination of tools, services and resources that provides a gateway (or portal) to online learning content, activities, accreditation. Learning will be a lot more granular and personalised. To be honest it is hard predicting the future of education technology, and as I write this I am reminded of David Kernohan’s presentation at ALT-C 2015 in which he said

The “future of education technology” as predicted has, I would argue, remained largely static for 11 years. This post represents an exploration concerning why this is the case, and makes some limited suggestions as to what we might do about it.

He also says

““listen to practitioners, not predictions, about education technology”

So at this point I will leave you, and continue to dream about hover boards and flying cars.

Back to the Future

4 thoughts on “Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15”

  1. I agree, James, that “predicting the future is easy, getting it right is much harder.” In fact I would say that the one thing that the vast majority of predictions have in common is that they turn out to be quite wrong. (There are some entertaining examples of this at

    You say that one of the problems with predicting the future is that “some things change quite rapidly and some things don’t change at all.” Predictions about the future of educational technology tend to assume that current institutional structures are among the things ‘that don’t change at all’. Talking about ‘the classroom of the future’ and ’21st century universities’ suggests an assumption that we will continue to have classrooms and universities for ever and ever.

    But (and here comes my personal prediction of the future!) I have become increasingly convinced in recent years that when the dust settles the real impact of educational technology will have been to make existing institutional structures superfluous and redundant. It seems to me that classrooms/schools/colleges/universities came into being because the resources needed for learning were scarce and therefore they had to be concentrated in particular locations and access to them had to be controlled through a hierarchy of power. Thanks to technology the resources needed for learning are no longer scarce and so we no longer need hierarchically controlled, managerialist, physically located institutions.

    So I agree with you that “learning will be a lot more granular and personalised”. And I envisage that this will lead to a future in which students/learners will interact with each other and with educators without the need for this interaction to be mediated by an institution.

    But at my age I am unlikely to live long enough for my prediction to be proved right or wrong:-)

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