An amazing thing happened today. Despite a crippling snowstorm that shut down the university, students were able to participate in classes from home with their instructors, who were also snowed in and homebound. Back in the day, this would have been impossible. Students would be cheering and running around in the snow drifts, sledding, making snowmen and snow angels. Professors would be wondering how to make up the class days. But thanks to modern technology, the learning environment has extended beyond the traditional classroom.
I was in class today with someone in Kentucky, a few people in Missouri, and I was in Texas. Imagine the possibilities of having class with people all over the world. I'm sure people have imagined this. There are virtual classrooms that connect learners locally, nationally, and globally. I wonder what that will do to the actual institution of a university. Sure, researchers will still need to have labs and equipment. But will the students still need to file into that immense classroom and listen to their lectures at specified times? Will students need a physical library to sift through information, papers, and reference materials? I am able to access my university's library from my computer. While it isn't always the perfect solution (I still have to pay to have older, non-digital papers scanned and emailed to me), it literally puts thousands of journals at my fingertips.
Perhaps the future of learning is in the virtual classroom. There will be no more hallowed halls. No more lecterns. No more boundaries. No more limitations on who can listen, who can speak, and who can learn.