Monday, January 25, 2010

The future of higher ed--institution types; educational characteristics

Our campus is ever more intently thinking about the future of higher education, and more particularly, what it means for Westminster College. Here is my shot at looking 20 years down the road and trying to figure out what the higher ed landscape will look like. (Please note that I am generally horrible at predicting the future, even of things that I have a big role in deciding, like what kind of car I will drive or what I want to order at a restaurant. So don't bet on what follows.)

Institution Types
Today, colleges and universities are defined by their size, the degrees they grant, and the role of research in setting institutional goals. Within 20 years, none of these will define the type of institution. Instead, they will be organized by the student's relationship with the institution. Here are four types I expect to see flourish:
  1. Residential College--Parents of teenagers, and adults seeking education, will continue to choose a residential learning option. And educators will want to continue to provide it, because residential learning provides a setting for the development of the whole person, an opportunity for immersion, and the grounds on which a person can integrate the components of her life. This doesn't mean, though, that all (or most) students will live on campus for two semesters at a time. Instead, I expect that residential schools will look more like monasteries or retreat centers. Some people will come and immerse themselves for many years at a time, working at the school and becoming part of its community. Others will continue the existing model. And still more will come for very intense short-term learning experiences--a week or a month at a time.
  2. Training Schools--These institutions will be distinguished by their ability to provide professional training to students of all sorts. Some of it will be traditional training--auto mechanics, dentistry, MBAs. But there will also be types of training that we haven't always thought of as training. Employers tell AACU, for example, that they want employees who can think critically and work in teams and behave ethically. Training schools will provide programs in these areas as well--a mix of classes and experiences that add up to meaningful skills in well-defined topics.
  3. On-demand Learning--On-demand learning schools will look a lot like the educational components of YouTube, coupled with the customized products of Students will decide what they want to learn--how to bake a cake, how to play guitar, how to understand what a top quark does--and teachers (most likely on a free-lance basis) will compete to teach them. A bunch of the education will be simply providing good content. But where teachers are needed they will act as tutors, interrogators, and scolds, pushing their students to do their best work.
  4. Further Learning--In the future of higher education, individual and (more likely) their employers will see the need to have focused, specialized opportunities to explore the edges of their fields. These opportunities will take place in R&D Centers sponsored by universities. There, cutting-edge experts and leaders from outside higher ed will work together on innovations that would be unlikely in a corporate environment. Think Aspen Institute that actually does something.
Educational Characteristics
Even though these seem like vastly different types of institutions, they share a number of characteristics which would allow one entity to be the sponsor for all of them. In other words, I'm thinking that one organization--a university--would be the umbrella under which some assortment of these institutions would be created, evaluated, improved, etc. Here are the common characteristics:
  • Personalization--regardless of the institution type, the educational program will be personalized for the student or group of students. Curricula will be revised to meet the needs and desires of individual students; courses (or whatever they look like--projects perhaps?) will roll out with students shaping the assignments; and "graduation" will come when individual students meet the goals they have jointly established with their faculty.
  • Partnership--all of these institutions will be based on partnership relationships--between students and faculty, programs and employers, institutions and communities, experts and investigators, etc.
  • Focus--No institution will be able to provide the full range of personalized learning opportunities to all students. So institutions will focus--with clear missions and clear areas of specialty. There will be no such thing as a "university" in other words, but students will have a real choice between institutions. And institutions will be able to distinguish themselves based on vision, curricula, and expertise, rather just than marketing, branding, price discounts, and impressive campuses.
  • Creativity--All learning will be judged by outcomes, and all key outcomes will be demonstrated by students, in partnership with faculty, employers, and community, creating things. So if your course of student draws on a great deal of online content, you will complete your education by creating better online content.
  • Technology--Technology will be everywhere, but it won't be seen as a solution. Instead, the use of technology will be a craft--something that requires skill, a sense of what is appropriate for the particular project and context. So in the same school, and maybe in the same program, one student will use on set of technologies, an another another. But the educational techno-future, where all content and interaction are on-line or technology-mediated, will be seen as too blunt a tool to create a meaningful education.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I think your predictions are pretty much right on. I'm a little disappointed at the lack of mentioning solar powered desks, robotic faculty who are responsible for humanizing education, and Genetic Learning Environments (or GLE's) which customize your learning experience based on your DNA. I guess not everybody can be as visionary as I am.