A Few Forces to Redefine Higher Education
In the last decade, we have stood witness as other knowledge and content-based industries such as publishing and media entertainment have experienced enormous transformation. There have been both winners and losers. The same will be true in higher education. Analyzing these other competitive landscapes, some common principles are evident among the winners – namely a “digital first” strategy, value innovation, agile operations, economies of scale, and research-based design and development. Some characterize the perfect storm as a trilogy of a) the rise in for-profits, b) open educational resources and c) mobile technologies (see Sir John Daniels video), but I think it’s much more than that. Here’s a few other forces that will undoubtedly be the agents reshaping higher education in the coming decade.
* MOOCs - Massive Online Open Courses (and soon full programs) — more than for-profits have mastered online courses, the MOOC movement (George Siemens, Sebastian Thurn formerly at Stanford now at Udacity, Coursera - Stanfords rush to compete with Udacity, Udemy, etc.) have really figured out the design of scaling courses to almost 200,000 students while maintaining high quality. It’s real.
* Big Data, Learning Analytics, and Predictive Analytics — For the last decade, we all have ‘saved money’ at the grocery store using our club card which is basically the grocer paying us for our data so they can more effectively target market segments, manage inventory and distribution, mitigate risk, forecast, and develop new business strategies. This is starting to take off in education where we have systems that track student activity, profiles, etc. While there’s all sorts of ethical issues involved, there is enormous opportunity to empower faculty and institutions to be more responsive to student learning needs, enrollment trends, but this will no doubt reshape educational strategies (and empower those who have the data analytics figured out.)
* The Great Unbundling: New Credentialing and/or Digital Badges - one reason universities have not changed while every other knowledge-based industry has turned upside down is because we’ve long held a monopoly in our closed bundled system of teaching/learning, assessment, and credentialing (i.e. degrees.) But a new system that opens not just educational resources (OER) but also credentials that employers can really use. Right now, most employers still don’t know what their new employees know or can do, because degrees are too inconsistent from institution to institution. So they’ve had to rely on name brand (ivy league hires only), their own assessments, or luck. Badges will break it down to demonstrable competencies which degrades the value of a degree.
* Edupreneurs and Startups - In 2009, when we all were still crying in our beers about the economy, budget cuts (state schools), and shrinking enrollments (private schools), educational startups were reeling in record amounts of venture capital to unapologetically disrupt higher ed. In 2011, over $429-million venture capital sunk into new education startups.
* Consumerization - we’ve all seen what the consumerization of IT has done — where new vendors and service providers go straight to the consumer, skipping over an organization’s IT department who long had control over what technology everyone in that organization used. Well, that’s now happening with teaching and learning — thanks to all these new startups. Universities have long had control over what students need to learn. But just like empowered consumers with affordable and powerful technology who ask “who needs our IT division’”, empowered learning will turn to the the startups who provide affordable yet high quality learning and credentials asking “who needs the university.”
* New Online Economies - We’re all familiar with the new online platforms that help people help each other (and make money from the connections and transactions) — craigslist, facebook, ebay, airbnb, yelp, etc. The same is starting to happen with education. The truth of the matter is there’s more than just faculty in the world who are experts (or expert enough) to help people learn. Also, digital goods (video lectures, online assessments, etc) unlike material goods, do not follow the standard supply and demand models. They can be replicated and shared in scale without depleting inventory or devaluation. So the whole economics of online learning is vastly different when developed in a networked platform — which is what 90% of the startups are. Online economies disrupting traditional models are analogous to quantum physics did to newtonian physics or what film did to theater. Perhaps the traditional models will still exist in a limited space, just like newtonian laws and stage productions are not defunked, they just play a relatively smaller role in the big scheme of things now.
— kudos to my friends Clark Shah-Nelson @clarkshahnelson who facilitates the EDUCAUSE Blended Learning community/discussion for inspiring this post.