Education, Virtual Reality, and 'The Fourth Transformation'

Why I'm skeptical.

December 14, 2016

The Fourth Transformation by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

Published in December of 2016.

Do you think that virtual reality (VR) will change everything?  Including education?  

Scoble and Israel are convinced that it will.

The “fourth transformation” in The Fourth Transformation is the shift from swiping to interacting.  By 2025 our digital life will transition from phones to glasses.  

Today’s bulky VR and mixed reality (MR) headsets - like the Oculus Rift and the Microsoft HoloLens - will by 2025 be as light as stylish as a pair of Warby Parker glasses.  

Forget the need to tether to a PC.  All the processing power and batteries will be small enough to fit into a standard pair of glasses.  

The headset of 2025 will seamlessly switch back and forth between full virtual reality to augmented reality.  Everything that we do today on our phones or our laptops, including typing, will be done much faster and easier with our eyes.  

In the third phase - the one we are in now - our digital lives are dominated by mobile devices (phones and tablets).  This transformation began in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone - and is characterized by the ubiquitous device in our pockets.  Computing is now mobile, but not immersive or augmented.

The second big era of technology - the second transformation - was from typing to clicking.  This was the move between the DOS command line to the graphical user interface of the Mac and Windows 95.  

The first transformation was that from the mainframe (and the typewriter) to personal computing.

Scoble and Israel write as self-described tech enthusiasts.  They believe that 2025 will be the crossover point where the smart phone disappears, its functions swallowed up by augmented and virtual reality glasses.  They believe that this technological shift will fundamentally change entertainment, advertising, media, education, and almost everything else that can be imagined.

All technology mediated education will flow through our smart glasses.  This new digital education will be immersive, interactive, and seamlessly blended into the physical world.  Distance will no longer be a barrier for hands-on and experiential digital learning.  

Do you buy this vision of the future?

Will spectacles replace phones, tablets, and laptops?

Is it possible that virtual reality will be more like 3D movies than the iPhone?  More like Second Life than the app?

Perhaps this my failure of imagination, but I can’t see how I will be typing with my eyes.  I’m writing these words on a MacBook Pro.  My iPhone is in my pocket.  I guess I could type on my iPhone, but why would I? 

A good keyboard continues to be the technology’s killer app.

The smart phone did not replace the laptop - but rather become a compliment to this previous generation of technology.

We probably should not underestimate how quickly the hardware for mixed reality headsets will improve.  Lots will change between now and 2025.  

Saying that the tech will improve is very different from saying that everything that uses technology will also change.  The iPhone has yet to change how education is created, delivered, or funded. 

We are still trying to figure out in 2016 how to make effective use of the iPhone in learning.  

I suspect that -at least when it comes to education - that the virtual reality story of 2025 will be much like the smart phone story of 2017.  Lots of hype, a perhaps growing gap between the media and the educational experience, but in the end not much of a fundamental impact.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Read this fun, fast, and thoroughly in-the-moment book, and then draw your own conclusions.

What are you reading?

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Joshua Kim

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