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Google's top education expert predicts what schools will look like in 50 years

San francisco altschool 4395 skitchMelia Robinson

Schools today look almost nothing like they did 50 years ago.

Kids aren’t riffling through card catalogues or prying open dusty encyclopedias in the library — they’re browsing online databases and deftly rooting through Wikipedia on personal laptops.

According to Jonathan Rochelle, head of product management for Google Apps for Education, the next 50 years might see even crazier advances.

Collaboration will be king

By 2066, Rochelle says, schools are poised to become highly collaborative spaces, thanks to the advent of virtual and augmented reality. Instead of needing to meet in the same physical space, kids could work on long-term projects remotely and interact through online platforms.

Rochelle has a unique perspective on the value of teamwork: In 2006, he co-founded the Google Docs suite. He’s since worked on subsequent Drive products, many of which Google has brought to schools in the form of Google Classroom, a cloud-based platform that integrates Google Apps to expedite scheduling and note-sharing.

Rochelle believes schools of the future will embrace collaboration as a top priority as the Internet continues to bleed into people’s daily lives.

“We should never underestimate the importance of social interaction and co-working,” he tells Business Insider. “So as much as schools want to get the value of calculus or coding into kids’ heads, let’s not forget to teach how to interact with each other.”

Machines learn, kids learn

For kids to work together in the best way possible, schools have to group them in the best possible way.

That’s where Rochelle sees machine learning entering the picture. Educators will be able to give students online tests that are smart enough to group kids by interest and skill level, rather than the current system of grouping them by age.

That kind of intuitive machine learning could also help put kids on the right career path. Rochelle points to those often-mocked career placement tests that high school freshmen and sophomores take — the one that might’ve told you that you should either become a plumber or a heart surgeon.

In the future, he says, there will be legitimate tools that can help guide students towards particular subjects. Those who don’t like maths but show a strong capacity for reading and language may be told they don’t need to take calculus, for example, while another student whose scores favour maths can focus on that.

Sophisticated data like this will create the perfect conditions for the kind of collaboration that is essential to effective learning, Rochelle says.

RobotEric Thayer/GettyHonda Motors demonstrates its Asimo robot during a media preview of the 2014 New York International Auto Show.

Over the next five decades, he also sees AI getting advanced enough for people to interact with machines in the same way people interact with one another.

By 2066, he says, kids will be able to ask questions of classroom robots in the same way they’d ask a peer or their teacher. That innovation is already making waves in the field of law, in the form of robot legal assistants powered by IBM Watson.

Rochelle suspects education won’t be far behind.

The tech revolution needs teachers to lead it

But Rochelle knows technology can’t transform education on its own — it takes a smart application of cutting-edge products to help kids learn. As the world gets more technologically advanced, it’s partly up to teachers to make sure kids feel comfortable using the latest products effectively.

Those are the skills that will give them the greatest leg up as citizens, Rochelle says.

“Imagine if we could teach kids all the tools that are at their disposal,” he says, “and let them take the next step to stand on the shoulders of giants.”

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