The future of the Internet is not just about technology. It also has huge social, political, and cultural implications. Pew Research’s Digital Life in 2025 report says this will be seen through revolutions in how global education is devised and delivered. Here’s their statement on this: “An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.”
This internet-enabled education revolution has already started and it’s known as the Massive Open Online Course. This new innovation first went viral three years when a Stanford professor offered a free online version of his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” class. When this course attracted 160,000 students from around the world, he knew he was onto something. The resulting new initiative grew rapidly and became the online learning venture known as Udacity. Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs for short, are usually credit-less, offer open access to educational content via the web, and are, well, “massive” in terms of the numbers of learners that participate. Ever since then the online learning industry has exploded as more and more major players have joined, including Coursera, Khan Academy, and edX.
As discussed in part 3 of this series, the internet is rapidly increasing global connectivity so that practically everyone can now participate in the global economy. MOOCs are a major contributor to this trend and are serving to disrupt the way education is delivered, while also changing perceptions about entitlements. Now quality education is available for free to anyone with an internet connection.
The implications of this online learning revolution should be apparent to business leaders. MOOCs, for instance, are also a great option for ultra-busy startup entrepreneurs and new business owners who can’t seem to squeeze more hours into the day. Developing a business requires continual learning, brainstorming, and the ability to think outside the box. Taking a course can offer a fresh perspective and inspire novel ideas about your business or project. By interacting and learning from experts you’ll see things in a much different light. You’ll also network and meet new people and develop potential partnerships that can significantly influence and grow your business. With the new skills achieved through online learning, you can follow your passion. In fact who knows, maybe you’ll spark the next technology revolution!
As we get ready to wrap up this series, there’s one final outcome mentioned by Digital Life in 2025 and that concerns the internet’s profound and continuing impact on communications. Here is Pew Research’s take on it: “Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.”
What experts mean by this statement is that the internet is causing a major paradigm shift in our existence, a major structural change in what it is to be human, be that for good or ill (yes, the Pew report does list a number of precarious outcomes of the internet – some would say it may be “turning us into machines”). Even as technologists and those who make their living in IT, we have an important responsibility to explore and even critique at times the implications of the technologies we support. Becoming a digital society doesn’t mean we should lose touch with our historical roots. If we remember where we’ve come from, we’ll know better where we’re going. If you want to test yourself, just consider when you last shut off the TV and sat down and wrote a letter with paper and pen, paid an old friend a visit, or even read a book in hardcover?
Well, this has been quite a journey! As we said in the first part of this series the future of the Internet will be nothing if not exciting. And indeed we’ve surveyed how this is playing out. The major disruptions we’re seeing today in emerging technologies like Internet of Things, Big Data, smart machines, wearables, MOOCs, and more are leading to major transformations all around us, for instance, in the way we access information, communicate, socialize, work, and bank. If we could summarize everything we’ve covered, it’s probably best stated this way (in the words of one contributor to the Digital Life in 2025 report): “The greatest impact of the Internet is what we are already witnessing, but it is going to accelerate.”
Business owners need to act with urgency, develop a strategy to keep up with the trends, and begin to adopt the latest advances in mobile, cloud, and Internet of Things into their day to day operations. The future of the internet is really already here but will only continue to get bigger and faster and demand more innovation from businesses. The best analogy is the driverless car; the technology is available and just around the corner of commercial implementation. So fasten your seatbelts and get ready, the future of the Internet will be quite a journey!