College 2.0: The New Face of Higher Education

What will education look like 15 years from now?

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What will education look like 15 years from now? This was the first question posed to a group of four leading educators during a recorded panel discussion, College 2.0: The New Face of Higher Education with Richard Miller of Olin College, Anant Agarwal of edX, Peter Hopkins of Big Think, and Eric Mazur of Harvard University.  I listened to this recorded session last night and found it enlightening and worthwhile, though it appears that no one really knows what the future holds for higher education. The divergent viewpoints expressed in the discussion no doubt mirror the conversations happening within higher education institutions in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

This session was held at Suffolk University in Boston on June 4, 2013. Kara Miller of Innovation Hub facilitated this civil and intimate discussion that lasted for one hour and forty minutes. Viewing the recorded session was  well worth the time invested and I’ll share with readers the highlights—though for brevity’s sake I’ve included the key points below.

Four Different Perspectives
The discussion was interesting, albeit reserved. Had the four been tasked with creating a blueprint for higher education of the future, it would have been a different discussion altogether. A barrier to productive problem solving discussions in higher ed is the differing beliefs and viewpoints about the purpose of education and how people learn. Though the goal of the panel was not to come up with a solution, it did highlight these fundamental issues. These two issues are significant; it is these beliefs that drive the pedagogy, the curriculum and even the delivery mechanism of learning, i.e. the Internet, the lecture hall, the textbook etc.

Below I’ve summarized responses from each panel member that encapsulates his viewpoint on learning and the future of education.

Anant Agarwal: edX
Anant Agarwal of edX believes that learning via the MOOC platform is a more effective and personal method than traditional instruction and learning—in his words it is “transformative”. He believes that the delivery of recorded lectures, quizzes and discussions forums on an open, online platform is superior to traditional face-to-face teaching.  Though ironically this method is similar in concept to classroom instruction with its recorded lecture. Agarwal also believes the quality of education will improve dramatically with MOOC platforms. Though it did seem to me that Agarwal wasn’t able to look at learning and the future of higher education objectively given his involvement with edX. I also question his reference to ‘quality’ improvements in education with the MOOC format—quality based upon what standards?

Richard Miller: Orin College
On the other end of the spectrum we have Richard Miller of Orin College who stated that education of the future would be about not what you know, but what you can DO.  He is a proponent of design based learning, similar to problem-centered learning, where the student discovers the problem and develops the solution through application, not instruction. He believes this method is essential to tapping into intrinsic motivation. Though I don’t agree with this format for learning, his point about motivation is a good one. 

Peter Hopkins: Big Think
Hopkins’ perspective is different from the other three. More from the outside looking in, given he is not working within higher education institutions, but works with academics to provide un-credentialed learning to motivated, life-long learners through his platform Big Think.  He predicts that technology will have a tremendous impact on the future of education, and it is the technological advancements that will break down the traditional four-year, in-residence bachelor’s degree path. His suggests that learning will happen in many venues, and the buildings of the universities will become innovation hubs, with students converging for short periods of times to work on projects, or study for condensed periods.

Eric Mazur: Professor at Harvard University
Eric Mazur believes that the change that is coming will not be controlled or initiated by the universities, but by external factors—technological influences. Mazur stated that it will be the “demands on the workforce will force universities to change – because the type of skills that are required are changing”.  Rote learning is still prevalent from what Mazur sees in education systems around the world, yet he suggested that this type of learning will change with the external pressures as mentioned above. He is founder of the flipped classroom for higher education and stresses the emphasis should be on learning and not teaching.

After considering the discussion and the various positions of the panel, I would say that Mazur and Hopkins provided a glimpse of what the future may hold for higher education. The message from both was that we cannot be focused on what we think education should be, or what will work, but realize that it is external factors that will drive the change and shape the future of higher ed. An article I read this morning validated the viewpoint, The internet of things and the future of manufacturing, which suggests that another industrial revolution is afoot, Industry 4.0.

The panel discussed other topics including academic motivation, student debt in the US and quality of education. Mazur demonstrated his flipped classroom strategy – his method for making learning engaging and meaningful through application. See below for links and resources.