Higher Education’s Five Most Significant Changes: My Hopes for the Future of the Academy
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Higher Education’s Five Most Significant Changes: My Hopes for the Future of the Academy

In 20 years, higher education will likely become far more student-centered both in the way institutions are managed and in the way content is delivered.

If you are a regular reader of The EvoLLLution, you know I’ve recently written a two-part reflection on changed and unchanged aspects of education over the past 40 years (see Part 1 and Part 2). In this article, I will share my views on higher education 20 years into the future.

What follows are the five most significant changes that I hope to witness if I am around to check on progress in education at that time.

1. Personal Lifelong Learning Guides

My first hope for 2033 is for a new field of independent mentors serving individual postsecondary students and their families. These mentors will be state licensed to allow them access to each learner’s secondary education data and, more importantly, will listen to each learner’s interests and life situation. Selecting a postsecondary program will be a far more intense and interactive process taking place external to the pressures of admissions marketing or campus tours. Mentors will be akin to local financial advisors, therapists, lawyers, realtors and other licensed professionals who get to know their clients and provide personal recommendations. Once each learner selects an initial career goal, the mentor will provide recommendations for postsecondary education options to prepare for entry into that career.  Recommendations may include a combination of self-study, apprenticeship, online education and onsite, instructor-led modules. Learners will continue to rely on independent mentors’ services as they change careers over time or as they progress in their initial career area.

2. Flexible and Learner-Centered Higher Education

My second hope is for a postsecondary system that is truly flexible and learner-centered. Rather than providing a specified curriculum and required courses, served like a traditional multi-course dinner, postsecondary education will be offered in a modular, à la carte fashion. Semesters will give way to courses offered at shorter lengths of time or completely self-paced. Semester exams and letter grades will be replaced by testing of module concepts and skills development and/or an option for learners to create their own demonstration of their knowledge and skills. Of course, different processes will be in place to allow learners flexibility in registering for, paying for and successfully completing modules to reach their career goal.

3. Education Spread Over a Lifetime

Third, I foresee that higher education will no longer be able to require general education courses of all learners. Institutions will not have the funds to pay their instructors to teach these courses to all postsecondary students, and learners and their families will not have the funds to devote to anything more than what is necessary to prepare for career goals. The content from required courses will be shifted into lifelong learning options, to be undertaken at a time when learners choose to study these topics and have the income to pay for them. As adult learners, they will be able to explore their interests to the depth they desire, combining instructor-recommended content with online materials, virtual tours and even travel to actual sites to enhance their understanding.

4. More Collaborative Learning Environment

Fourth, by removing the competition for letter grades, learners will be more comfortable forming lifelong bonds and relationships with others having similar career interests. Technology will make it increasingly easy to maintain these relationships, and the support from these communities will benefit learners over time as their careers develop. Throughout life, each learner will experience multiple learning communities, joining new ones as his/her knowledge and skills develop and through lifelong learning in interest areas.

5. Student-Directed Learning

Finally, even with these immense changes, postsecondary institutions will remain. They will, however, prepare learners for careers in less time by concentrating only on essential knowledge and skills, modularizing content and providing learners with control over their pace to attain knowledge and skills.  Postsecondary instructors will be less involved in delivering instruction and more involved in recommending existing content for review and practice and in assessing and/or verifying learners’ acquisition of knowledge and skills. Instructors’ work will follow an individual learner’s pace rather than set semester dates. Courses now considered general education or required courses will shift to lifelong adult education. In these courses, learning goals will be more self-directed and achievement will be measured by a combination of instructor feedback and self-assessment.

These are my views of the changes ahead in postsecondary education. They reflect my hopes for the future of higher education to enable it to continue and thrive. What changes do you envision and what hopes do you have for higher education in the year 2033?

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3 Responses to Higher Education’s Five Most Significant Changes: My Hopes for the Future of the Academy

  1. Ian Richardson Reply

    2013/09/05 at 9:45 am

    I agree that lifelong learning is the new trend in higher education. However, it would be terribly sad if students were pushed to this because they could not afford broader education at any one time. Education shouldn’t be about the bare minimum, or as Terpstra says, “what is necessary to prepare for career goals.” In my opinion, lifelong/continuing education should focus on skills upgrading. It shouldn’t be the only form of education an individual receives. Students benefit when their education isn’t too fragmented, but is instead a cohesive, broad curriculum that teaches critical thinking on top of skills development.

  2. Jane Terpstra Reply

    2013/09/05 at 1:36 pm

    I believe we need to rely on secondary education to provide the broad education and self-exploration that general postsecondary education courses provide. Many high school students seem unchallenged by secondary courses, to the point of taking many Advanced Placement courses. Secondary education needs to provide the “cohesive, broad curriculum that teaches critical thinking”.

    If we shift this responsibility to secondary education and challenge students to learn from the wealth of literature, languages, history, cultures, and sciences during these years, they should be ready to concentrate on career-related courses in their post-secondary education.

  3. Cindy Chao Reply

    2013/09/05 at 2:54 pm

    I like Terpstra’s idea of having independent mentors to guide students in their decision making throughout their academic careers (not just their undergraduate studies). Extra care would have to be taken to ensure these state-licensed professionals retained as much independence and neutrality as possible, to ensure the best advice for students.

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