Our current institutions of higher education are failing today’s students. Our universities don’t know how to deal with a culture that’s always on, a student body that has a shorter attention span and expects personalized attention, and the rapidly changing needs of employers – who demand hands-on, practical skills from new graduates. Universities are slow to adapt to changing technology and are philosophically misaligned with vocational education, and at an average price of $40,000 for a degree from a public university – much of which is spent supporting academic research, not teaching and learning – it’s no wonder that over half of students fail to graduate.
The future of the university embraces changes made possible by technology. In some cases, these shifts will lead to incremental changes to existing models. And in others, the shifts will be more fundamental – and more contentious.
This is what the future of university learning looks like.
The syllabus of the future will not be built by instructors who painstakingly assemble content or cling to reused, outdated course structures. Instead, the syllabus – and corresponding course content – will be created automatically and will constantly evolve and change. Seeded by student interests and passions, driven by machine learning, and constantly revised based on reporting from a national clearinghouse, the syllabus will draw content from public repositories, private libraries, and from professors – who benefit from a “teachers pay teachers” model, receiving profit sharing based on usage of their content.
In the future, education will be consumed during the in-between time that students have as they balance multiple jobs, kids, errands, and all of the other realities of life. Students will receive instruction while they wait in line at the checkout or as they wait for their baby to fall asleep. Their optimal learning time will be identified and refined automatically, delivering the most appropriate amount of content at the best time.
In the future, degree plans will be organized around the skills and capabilities required in a job, skills that meander through multiple subjects and disciplines. Instead of declaring a major, a student will adopt a “tech tree” showing how individualized skills support unique job opportunities at specific companies – based on scraped and normalized data from job postings on sites like LinkedIn, and constantly updating to match the needs of industry.
In the future, schools will change the cost of their credentials dynamically, based on the earning potential associated with that course of study. Students will be able to see the average lifetime salaries of people who graduated from each program, and they’ll be able to compare that to the rating and performance reviews from employers who hired people with that credential. Students will pay more to gain in-demand skills, and will expect to earn more as a result of completing their academic journey.
Throughout their academic path, students will find individuals who are moving through the same content – at the same pace – but at a variety of institutions. Students will be expected to support each other in this journey, and can rate one-another on the quality of their partnership. These public ratings, along with measures of personal academic successes, will drive future pairings.
Finally, the role of the educator will change drastically. More than ever, students living in a technology-centric academic journey need access to real people to give them guidance, reframe problems, and talk about their experiences. Students will be able to select from a variety of guides (for a variety of prices) who meet with them and provide advice and support. Some of these guides may emerge from traditional academic routes, like the path towards a PhD, but the majority will start to emerge from industry, and students will gain insight from practitioners who have demonstrated their abilities in the work place.