Trends in Ed: Every Man a King!

For this Trends in Ed, I’d like to talk a little bit about the future of E-books and education.  I am lucky in that there are plenty of brave men and women who have studied for many years to chart our future, so I need only take my cue from them.  In Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, for instance, a young woman gets a hold of an interactive educational book titled, in Stephenson’s steampunk style, “The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer: a Propaedeutic Enchiridion in which is told the tale of Princess Nell and her various friends, kin, associates, &c.,”  This hypothetical piece of technology creates for the young girl who acquires it a personalized educational journey out of the material of her life.   With it she becomes, unconsciously (thinking she is only being told entertaining stories, and being given entertaining puzzles), the best-educated person in her world.  Stephenson also has the book shape her character so as to become a natural leader.

The powers of the primer presupposed a little too much Lysenkoism for my taste (Stephenson seems to believe it can turn any child into a world-conquering genius), but it seems clear that with the rise of Ipad and digital books we are taking our first steps towards creating such an educational experience.  Look, for instance, at this interactive book developed for Al Gore.  Although unbelievably primitive by Stephenson’s standards, here is incipient interactivity and engaging video for educational purposes.

The old idea of giving every student a laptop was never, in my view, very well thought through, but a suitably modified ipad-like device, built to present a new kind of universal e-textbook that would continually adjust its interactive learning experience based on its user’s capabilities and interests would not only decrease the cost of education but increase the output in terms of student performance as well.  The Industrial Revolution brought to the masses living standards only the elite had previously enjoyed, but the process is incomplete.  With a propaedeutic enchiridion, every boy can have the educational experience of Alexander the Great, every girl Queen Elizabeth’s, every man a king! Or maybe they’ll all just use it to play Angry Birds.