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MIT is planting its flag firmly in the soil -- education's future is going to be more interactive and more student-driven. So what kind of student will succeed in these future schools?

In a revealing article published yesterday, MIT's director of digital learning advocated for what he sees as the future of education -- a blend of traditional lectures and interactive components, with online and massively online coursework playing a much greater role.

The first thing to point out about this article, of course, are its inherent contradictions.  MOOCs and massive online lectures are, if anything, MORE distancing and less engaging than in person lectures.  Interactivity, which should be an absoutely integral part of the online learning experience, has been a while coming.  It's clearly not going to be an overnight transformation.  EdX is aware of this problem, and is working on it.

Assuming these issues get ironed out (and there's no reason to think they won't), the future of school might indeed look very different.  But what will the ideal STUDENT for those schools look like?  How will admissions change, and how will it stay the same?

Standardized tests aren't going anywhere.  Love 'em or hate 'em, standardized testing is here to stay.  Until sentient AIs are capable of judging a million applicants in a nanosecond, there's no practical way for schools to make holistic judgments on large numbers of students.  Standardized testing is the next best thing.  So your aspiring MIT grad should focus on making good grades wherever she is enrolled (school name matters less than GPA) and acing those SATs and ACTs.

Differentiation through individual achievement, accomplishment and leadership will matter more.  Every mentor seeks a worthy apprentice (just ask Obi-Wan Kenobi).  If you want to appeal to the faculty of MIT or fill in the blank school of the future, you'll need to look for interesting things to do, situations where you can take initiative and have an impact.  Locally, unconventionally, where will you be able to make a difference?  National Honors Society isn't going to cut it anymore.

An affinity for technology is a must.  This might sound a bit obvious, but a great way to appeal to a futuristic school like MIT is to be well versed in future technologies like 3d printing, Virtual Reality, and Web APIs and programming.  If you programmed your own little game in your spare time, or if you win your science fair with an innovative 3d printed experiment, that's going to count for even more in the 'apprenticeship' model MIT is describing.

Whatever the college campus of the future looks like, and however much time students actually SPEND on it, it's absolutely certain that college will continue to be an essential tool for people to advance in society.  So crack those books and get to work!


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