The Future of Education looks like …

Education needs a massive paradigm change.

One of my favourite quotes of all time is “If the paradigm isn’t working, executing the paradigm better actually makes things worse” (from Deliberate Simplicity).  The historical paradigm of higher education no longer works, and we need a new paradigm.

It might be tempting to say that the future of education is online, but as someone who has taught over 5,500 online students (four different schools, both undergraduate and graduate), I’m not convinced it is that simple.  A change of delivery format alone, no matter how creative and effective, will not be sufficient.

Some of the current challenges in North American higher education are:

  • Affordability.  By some counts, the cost of higher education has increased at twice the rate of inflation.
  • Accessibility.  Fewer and fewer current and potential students have the ability to attend classes at a college or university, due to time and location challenges.
  • Relevance.  Anecdotally, one of the most common comments I hear is “I’m just not interested in the courses that I have to take.”
  • Value.  If one of the goals of education is to increase a student’s ability to be employed, it doesn’t seem to be working.

So what is the solution?  Good question.  As a partial answer, I like some of the suggestions that come from College Disrupted:

  • Competency-based Learning.  Rather than an education path based on arbitrary dates and times (an exact number classroom hours, a certain number of out-of-class hours, so many weeks of instruction, etc), we should instead focus on competencies (the knowledge and/or skills demonstrated by a student).  Who decided that an arbitrary amount of time would work for every single student?  Time in the oven is important for baking cookies, but why do we assume that a paradigm that works in kitchens and factories also works in education?  From another perspective, would you rather hire a student who spent the “required time” in school or  one who demonstrated the “required expertise” in her chosen subject?  What if … we completely abandoned the “seat-time” model of education?
  • Learning through Immersion.  Have you ever heard someone say, “School is good, but just wait until you get into the real world, it will be different there.”?  Well, why wait?  This is where trades education and apprenticeships often excel.  What if … all of higher education was strategically and simultaneously integrated with “real life” (job experience, volunteerism, entrepreneurship, etc)?
  • Gamification.  Also known as social competitiveness.  😉  We are social beings, and we love challenges, rewards, celebration, and competing with others.  Many of the most popular fitness tracking tools (think of Strava) tap into the addictive potential of community participation.  What if … education became … fun?

And some of my own thoughts:

  • Giftedness.  Raise your hand if you have had to endure a 90 minute lecture from a brilliant but mind-numbingly boring professor.  What did you actually learn?  Seriously, who thinks that is a good idea?  Let the strong researchers do research and let the strong teachers teach.  Restructure our institutions so that the researchers and teachers rub shoulders with each other often, but they are free to excel in their areas of strength.  And when we find a professor who can do excellent research and also teach effectively, lets pay them enough to keep them (and not “reward” them by moving them from teaching to administration!).  What if … teachers, researchers, administrators, and leaders stayed in their areas of giftedness?
  • Forget your Career.  Education should be so much more than just “how to become qualified to get a job that I might like for a few years”.  At it’s best, higher education fosters critical-thinking (although it seems that contrarian thinking is often squelched), creativity, humanitarianism, personal development, and more.  Where can we go to develop and critique our worldviews?  Where can we go to learn about the world and become inspired (and equipped) to improve it?  Where can have the freedom to explore disruptive thinking?  And where can go to learn from truly wise people who have lived (and learned) much more than we have?  What if … higher education was built to make us better people?

Hmm … what is the future of education?  Should it look like some of this, or should it be even more radically different?  Or should it remain “as is”?

What do you think?  What is your vision for the future of education?

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