Tuesday, October 25, 2011

(R)evolution in Higher Education

Disclaimer: Though my day job is at a university, my blog is my own and written on my own time. The following thoughts are mine and do not represent the views of my employer (as far as I know).
I’m fascinated by the prospect of evolution, and even revolution, in the way higher education might take place in the future, in part fueled by Internet technologies and the digital representation of information and art. I believe that the relationship between student and university, and between teacher and university, may be profoundly redefined in the coming years.

Future generations of college students may expect higher education to meet their needs in more familiar and nimble ways – in the ways that online social media and mobile phone applications help them to organize their days, find services, search for jobs, and more. Customized and at their fingertips.

Students may demand a transformed higher education experience in which they and their professors interact both online and in person, on flexible schedules, and as independent agents associated with (perhaps several) traditional universities in less rigid ways. They may want to take more control in creating custom programs of study rather than choose from a limited set of degree programs that any particular college or university might offer. They may wish to take advantage of courses offered at two or three or four colleges and to assemble a "package" that works for them. Rather than sacrifice human interaction for online-only distance learning, this approach may actually expand the number and diversity of people with whom they interact in person (and online).

An example may help. Imagine a student who wants to combine computer engineering, international business and law, and psychology all toward feeding her interest in an international enterprise or humanitarian project that will work with numerous governments around the world. She decides that she wants education and training that includes courses from Stanford, Penn, and MIT, but that also draws substantially from nearby state schools and community colleges to get the full set of courses and distribution credits needed to form a complete program of study and to get the credits to graduate. She attends many classes in person, on more than one campus. For other classes, distance education approaches are used.

I envision a future in which all of that may be possible, or even common. I believe that some colleges and universities will figure out their evolving roles, and how to deliver to meet changing demand sooner than others. Those which evolve may capture “market share” in forward thinking students and star faculty. I'm watching to see when and how such programs begin to become available to tomorrow's students, and I'm optimistic about that future.

Discussion questions:
  • What are the real differences in this model when compared with higher education today?
  • Would you prefer this model for yourself or your children?
  • What will it take to get there? Will there be a slow evolution, or will a few schools take a big leap?

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