Future of Student Needs

Continuous Feedback

Learning in the FitBit World

If you own a FitBit, you probably understand the addictive quality of real-time feedback. Tapping that bracelet or checking that app provides immediate information about “how I’m doing.” You crave that information, probably in no small part because it’s one of the only aspects of your life where you can get a snapshot of your progress. In a world where things are changing ever-more rapidly, the traditional, slow feedback loops of higher education (test results, course grades, letters of recommendation, diplomas) aren’t going to cut it anymore.

“The Future of Student Needs: 2025 and Beyond” identified students’ need for such continuous and real-time feedback as one of the key emerging needs. This includes feedback on learning and skill development, but it also bleeds into all aspects of life. How is one’s “reputation” score on social networks or citizenship index score? How is one doing on extracurricular activities? How is one's work-life-study balance? If we hope to improve, feedback is key. The future context suggested by the forecasts is one where ubiquitous technology—sensors, Big Data, AI, and the cloud—mean that everything can be measured and increasingly will be, either because of external pressure to prove achievement and growth, or personal desire to measure up. We could see students looking for edge in an ultra-competitive battlefield, and even when “monitoring” is not required per se, they may opt to do it for themselves.

What might this actually look like? Services are likely to include some form of lifelog to capture feedback, activities, and accomplishments. The feedback will come from multiple sources – both human and machine. Some will be standard metrics, while others may be highly personalized. Some may be concerned about their knowledge in particular subjects of interest, or health measures, or game-playing performance. Some may customize their own compilations or indexes of metrics. Trends toward postmodern and integral values might suggest, for instance, a “making a difference” metric that measures one’s overall contribution to planetary or local well-being.

The mind swirls at the implications of this need. Does continuous feedback further deepen our commitment to the zero-sum rat race that often proves unfulfilling and detrimental in today’s educational and working world? Does it create a world where everything must be measured to have value? Or does it finally empower learners to be in control their own evaluation and growth, taking that away from institutions and authority figures? What’s collected, who can access it, and how it’s interpreted are key uncertainties for the future.

The answers are elusive, and our hopes for more information and data must be paired with a commitment for more meaningful, fulfilling information and data.