In Search of the Virtual Class: Education in an Information Society

In Search of the Virtual Class: Education in an Information Society

In Search of the Virtual Class: Education in an Information Society

In Search of the Virtual Class: Education in an Information Society


`Shirley zips into her skin-tight school uniform, which on the outside looks something like a ski suit. The lining of the suit in fact contains cabling that makes the suit a communication system and there are pressure pads where the suit touches skin that give a sense of touch. Next, she sits astride something that is a bit like a motorbike, except that it has no wheels and is attached firmly to the floor. Her feet fit on to something similar to a brake and accelerator and her gloved hands hold onto handlebars. She shouts, "I'm off to school, Dad". Her father, who is taking time out from his teleworking, begins to remind her that the family are going teleshopping in the virtual city later in the day, but it is too late, his daughter has already donned her school helmet. She is no longer in the real world of her real home, she is in the virtual world of her virtual school.' Is this the shape of the future of education? This book presents a vision of what will happen to education and training as information technology develops. The argument is simple. To prepare people for life in an information society they need to be taught with the technology of an information society. But what shape will that take? Can the classroom as we know it - a communications system which has been in place for four thousand years - be replaced? The authors argue that through the development of telecommunications for telelearning a genuine revolution in education is in the making. The book describes how, through the convergence of a cluster of new technologies including virtual reality, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and the superhighways of telecommunications, a new educational paradigm will emerge in the form of a virtual class. Teachers, trainers and educators who worry about how best to prepare students for life in an ever-changing world will find much inspiration in this engagingly written and jargon-free book.


In the mid-1990s we are living in a period of dramatic historical and technological change, which has been characterised as a profound civilisation change. For one who is working in distance education it is clearer than ever that the world is in the midst of an equally profound change in the whole learning paradigm.

A dramatic revolution is going on in the communication and technology sectors. The developments in digitalisation and fibre optics technologies are rapidly taking us into the information society of the future, where practically any kind of information and services will be available everywhere, and our ability to communicate across the planet will be immense. It is still difficult for most of us fully to grasp the changes it will bring in society as we know it today: how we spend and organise our lives, our work and leisure time; how we learn, manufacture, provide services; how we fight wars; how it will affect the relationship between the haves and have-nots in the world; how it will affect culture and language.

In the world of the future computer-generated virtual reality classroom of John Tiffin and Lalita Rajasingham, the education environment as we know it today, how we provide and organise education, and the way we learn, will have changed dramatically in pace with new realities and new learning needs. We are already well into this process of change as we see distance and conventional education blending more and more in many countries. As conventional education changes, distance education will change as well.

Some countries are in a period of re-examining their education system, while others, also in the western world, seem to be discovering more slowly the changes that the coming of the information society will bring to their education system. There is real danger in this, because it may mean that the formal education systems may be so slow in changing that their capacity to provide the kind of educational services society and its citizens need will be seriously diminished. It will be those schools, universities and education systems that are able to change in pace with new realities that will be more valuable, and that will succeed in providing their services to the vast

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