The Future of Higher Education
Let’s begin by looking at ten innovations that are slowly but surely being incorporated into higher ed, and then to five new educational models that are gradually emerging.
Innovation 1: Learning Analytics
Learning analytics, data dashboards, and predictive algorithms are rapidly spreading across universities and community colleges. These tools offer innovative ways to predict student success, measure achievement of learning outcomes, and drive improvements in admissions, pedagogy, and student support services. And newer endeavors such as Civitas Learning, a leading proponent of actionable analytics, are on the rise, which can alert students to toxic course combinations and provide an early warnings of at-risk behavior to faculty, advisers, and the students themselves.
Innovation 2: Microcredentialing
Just 59 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in Fall 2006 completed the degree at that institution within 6 years. Given the fact that over 40 percent did not graduate from that school, universities are increasingly experimenting with alternate credentials with job market value: Badges, certificates, specializations. LinkedIn, the career networking site, has embraced the concept, allowing users to display such new forms of credentialing. It is too soon to tell if employers will take notice, but it certainly seems reasonable to expect that some will use them in hiring.
Innovation 3: Competency-Based Education
Calls for an outcomes-driven education geared toward 100 percent proficiency are giving traction to competency-based approaches that award credit for mastery rather than credit hours. Especially attractive is competency-based education’s prospect of accelerating time to degree, since students can potentially receive credit for skills and knowledge acquired through life experience or alternative forms of education. So far, most such programs have been primarily career-focused, especially in areas with competencies well-defined by professional associations or industries, and offerings have been largely confined to for-profits, aggressive, but relatively small, non-profits, like Southern New Hampshire University, or extension programs, such as the University of Wisconsin’s. But with the U.S. Department of Education and accreditors increasingly willing to allow institutions to experiment with competency-based models and direct assessment, such programs are poised to take off. The trend is moving beyond just a few institutions like Western Governors University, as even Harvard Business School, for example, launched its HBX CORe program, a “boot camp” for liberal arts college students who want to understand the fundamentals of business.
Innovation 4: Personalized Adaptive Learning
Just-in-time remediation. Embedded learning dashboards. Individualized learning pathways. Activities and readings tailored to student needs and interests. Alerts and notifications. Course recommendation systems. Personalization has been the hallmark of contemporary retailing and marketing, and now it’s coming to higher education. So far, personalization has largely been incorporated into computer-based “program learning,” like that offered by the Open Learning Initiative or by companies like Knewton, the self-proclaimed “world’s leading adaptive learning technology provider.” But recognition of the fact that all students do not learn best by following the same path at the same pace is beginning to influence instructional design even in traditional courses, which are beginning to offer students customized trajectories through course material. Students have embraced this concept as well. CS50: Introduction to Computer Science, now the most popular course at Harvard College with nearly 900 enrolled, offers a variety of pathways, catering to those with no programming experience to a “Hacker Edition.”
Innovation 5: Curricular Optimization
The controversial 1983 call for educational reform, A Nation At Risk, decried a cafeteria-style curriculum with unlimited course options, claiming that it compromised high quality academics by encouraging students to mistake “the appetizers and desserts…for the main courses.” Convinced that a curricular smorgasbord of disconnected classes squanders faculty resources and allows too many students to graduate without a serious understanding of the sweep of human history, the diversity of human cultures, the major systems of belief and value, or great works of art, literature, and music, a growing number of institutions have sought to create a more coherent curriculum for at least a portion of their student body. At an increasing number of institutions, this has taken the form of establishing Honors colleges or programs; at others, by redesigning the general education curriculum to provide students with a common set of integrated experiences. The University of Virginia, using Oracle’s Hyperion performance management software and services, provides a notable example of an institution seeking to optimize its curriculum.
Innovation 6: Open Educational Resources
Innovation 7: Shared Services
Innovation 8: Articulation Agreements
Innovation 9: Flipped Classrooms
Innovation 10: One-Stop Student Services
Model 1: New Pathways to a Bachelors Degree
Model 2: The Bare-bones University
Model 3: Experimental Models
Model 4: Corporate Universities
Model 5: All of the Above