Three Big Changes Ahead for Higher Education

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”  Albert Einstein

A change of thinking is almost obligatory when considering the future of Higher Education. Last week was the final week of the MOOC Current/Future State of Higher Education (CHFE12); its overarching objective was to explore the influences and pressures facing universities today and to identify where higher education is headed. Numerous esteemed educators [including author and Georgia Tech’s  Richard Demillo and Vice Provost Joel Hartman of University of Central Florida] shared their knowledge, expertise, research, and in some cases predictions via webinars, to shed light on the conundrums within higher ed. The results are surprising, encouraging and telling of what educators need to do to adapt and be prepared.

In this post I’ll share my synopsis of the course by focusing on three areas of change. My aim is to share with readers the areas that will be most helpful and maybe even instructive in how-to adapt thinking and/or teaching. The three areas are: 1) the drivers of change in higher education, 2) change in pedagogical methods based upon progressive educators, and, 3) changes in educational models that are on the horizon for higher education. The latter point, is my prediction of where higher education is going based upon research and findings during this MOOC.  I’ve also included a list of resources at the end of this post, links to the recorded webinars and resources available from CHFE12.

1. Drivers of Change in Higher Ed
Change is constant, yet the rate of change in higher education is accelerating. The theme of ‘change’ was pervasive throughout the course; each webinar guest spoke of ‘change’ in some context. Though it was during the weeks’ topic of Leadership in Education that explored change in-depth. James Hilton, Chief information officer at the University of Virginia during the webinar he led, Thriving in Times of Disruption, described change as profound, and creating chaos and conflict. Yet at the same time, Hilton described change as an opportunity for institutions to find its North Star, meaning its strengths —to energize the institution by focusing on those identified.

The first step in adapting and thriving in a period of chaos is to objectively and carefully examine the drivers of change that are affecting a given sector. In our case education, we can narrow it down to three primary forces driving change.

  1. The abundance of quality content available on the web. Students have access to more content than ever before, which changes the paradigm of the student/teacher relationship. The professor teaching in a classroom is not the primary method for accessing scholarly expertise; content is no longer bound by cost, location or time.
  2. Interactive applications and platforms on the web accessible due to cloud technology. Blogs, Slideshare and Learning Management Platforms such as Moodle, are just a few examples of tools that are changing how education (content) is delivered and accessed. Online learning, through MOOCs, either Coursera or CHFE12 (via Desire2Learn) are examples of learning that was not available ten, or even five years ago.
  3. Mobile devices with Internet connectivity capability.  Millions of people around the globe, even in third world countries are owners of mobile devices that connect to the Internet. This capability drives not just educational change, but cultural and societal change as well.

2. Changes in Pedagogy
Education is becoming student focused, which means pedagogical methods are adapting and transforming accordingly.  During a webinar in week two of CFHE, Joel Hartman spoke of the new pedagogical models implemented at UCF. The new approach puts the student in the center, and provides a choice of five learning modalities. This approach is highly successful. A critical component to its success is educating faculty on the effective use of pedagogical methods in the various modalities. I wrote about these methods in-depth in a previous post.  Competency based learning, another approach uses a different pedagogy, one that focuses on the application of skill and knowledge through demonstration. Each are described in-depth below.

  1. Competency based learning either in face-to-face or online. Competency learning challenges the notion of ‘seat-time’ based upon the Carnegie Unit (time-based reference for measuring student achievement that is used by American colleges). Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire’s Innovation U (which I wrote about here) and University Now — all examples of schools using competencies as a model for assessment and learning. Businesses in the community are supportive of this model, often partnering with colleges in the process.

 Another form of competency learning are adaptive learning platforms. Where student learning is customized through online programs that adapt and respond to students strengths and weaknesses. Knewton learning is an example of a company that delivers adaptive learning programs.

2. Blended and Online learning that are based upon models of constructivism or  connectivism.  Students are involved and active participants within learning, either constructing their learning with content and student peers (constructivism), or connecting with nodes within a network, making connections and acquiring knowledge as a result. Learning is moving towards treating students as part of the learning, not as passive ‘vessels’.

3. Changing Models of Higher Ed
Below are the three directions that may emerge based upon the advancements and developments as discussed in the CFHE12 MOOC.

1) The traditional college experience where students attend college or universities will change; will be augmented with online learning, flipped classrooms, and blended learning. The community will become part of the education experience, where students work within the community to solve problems (project based learning) or work as part of their education. Four years of attendance will be the exception, less will be the norm.

2) Do-it-yourself college:  Students will adopt the ‘build-your-own-degree plan’. Colleges are becoming unbundled, which means students will be able to choose preferred courses, MOOCs and assessment of skill for credit. This model will grow as costs for college continue to be out-of-reach for the average family.

3) Life long learning (competency based): Students will become learners for life, where learning is one long, continuous process. It will not stop after high school, or even after college, but will continue as learners need new skills for career change, job training or even personal interests. MOOCs will play a role, as will courses offered through other venues, perhaps face-to-face, online or through iTunes U.  This model has much potential.

The future is bright for higher education. Resistance to change can be a significant barrier to the developments needed within education, but those that resist will eventually be forced to get on board or be left behind. Those that do change and adapt will have the opportunity to reach students as never before – educate people of all ages to be productive, educated and contributing members of society. It all begins with embracing change, and changing our thinking.

CFHE12: Content Home Page through Desire2learn
Blended Learning Toolkit, by Thomas Cavanaugh,  EDUCAUSE Review
Strengthening the Pathway to Higher Education, by Dr. Brian Mitchell, Huffington Post
Why Online Education Works, by Alex Tabarrok, CATO Unbound

Photo Credit: Constant Change, by mermaid99, Flickr

38 thoughts on “Three Big Changes Ahead for Higher Education

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    1. Debbie Morrison Post author

      HI Karine,
      Glad you like the post and the blog. This is my own site, I don’t get paid but do it because I am passionate about education, and like to share and learn from others. Thanks for taking the time to comment! 🙂



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  5. Rashad Grove

    This is a good article. A non-traditional student like myself needs this kind of learning motif to accomplish my educational goals. Student based learning and building your own degree plans are essential for those who are attemping to further their education while working in careers.


  6. VanessaVaile

    Reblogged this on MOOC Madness and commented:
    Disclaimer of a serial mooc-er and chronic dropout thereof: I registered and followed forum discussion for while (still following a handful of mooc blogs, including this one, discovered there) but, already overloaded and frustrated with LMS and Forum navigation, I drifted off. Does that count as “lurker” or “drop out”? Whatever. New terms, please.

    Whatever. This is a good synopsis of #CFHE12, still relevant to MOOCs at hand. The post lists and addresses “The three areas [of the course, which] are: 1) the drivers of change in higher education, 2) change in pedagogical methods based upon progressive educators, and, 3) changes in educational models that are on the horizon for higher education,” plus links.


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    1. Debbie Morrison Post author

      Yes, you may of course quote my articles, link to my blog or even re-blog a post. Thank you for asking. I do need to put a Creative Commons license on my site — your question just reminded me I need to do so. 🙂


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    1. Debbie Morrison Post author

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. You can follow me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI (you can also click on the Twitter button on the home page of this blog), and I have two other blogs, though they address different topics. You can find the blog addresses and my other sites I am on by clicking the ‘about’ tab in my blog. They are listed there. 🙂


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  15. Maja

    Hi Debbie, thank you for this excellent summary of the #CFHE12 MOOC. I forwarded it further in the form of a tweet.
    This MOOC was my first one and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I find it quite amazing how technical development sparks new ways of collaboration and learning. I think connectivism has a lot of potential, especially in the lifelong learning area. In formal education, this form will have to continue challenging traditional educational systems worldwide, especially in areas of new ways of accreditation of learned knowledge and competences.
    From several discussions and my personal observation I noticed that a future MOOC learner needs a set of competences: be curious, motivated, goal oriented, open up for discussion, reflective, sharing thoughts and resources, technology and networking literate, disciplined to participate (here I definitely failed here and there due to the daily work) … and probably several more.
    Because I think MOOCs are part of future learning and need more research, as my closure of #CFHE12 MOOC I followed the invite and participated in the research by Eleni Boursinou and her team. Here is the link to the questionnaire if someone is motivated to contribute.


  16. Nina

    Excellent post, thank you! It really makes sense to start focusing on students and providing learning facilitation. Due to the changes in speed and means of information delivery, universities are not the keepers of knowledge/information, but places where people can come to learn and create more knowledge/information together.


  17. Robert Connolly

    Great summary – I am forwarding on to my colleagues – these are all substantive points we need to address – I wish I had been able to take part in the entire conference. Thanks a lot for Learning Toolkit resource.


    1. onlinelearninginsights Post author

      Hi Robert, it’s so good to hear from you! Yes the course was excellent, with some tremendous experts in the field. Most of the webinars are recorded and are 30 minutes in length. Given your interests, I would highly recommend listening to Rich DeMillo’s webinar where he hits on the key points from his book, Abelard to Apple. You can access the recorded webinar here: (the webinar starts at about the 1:00 minute mark). Thanks for taking the time to comment Robert! Debbie



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