The Future of Higher Education

Let’s be clear about one thing. The way we organize higher education is going to change! While I might be wrong here, I do have the odds in my favor. If it doesn’t, it would be the first industry ever to resist the disruptive forces of digitization, ubiquitous connectivity and workflow fragmentation.

To have a good understanding of these three forces, I recommend anyone to read “The world is flat” by Thomas L. Friedman. What it basically comes down to is the following. Ever since the birth of modern day computing, we have transformed analogue stuff into digital (text, audio, pictures, …). Digital holds the advantage exacts copies can be made at extreme low cost in no time. Next, we had the rise of Internet which makes all this digital goodness accessible at extreme low cost. Finally, work is being continuously chopped into smaller pieces and digitized whenever. Now we can easily outsource chunks of work to computers or other people (read ‘lower-cost workers’ or even ‘customers’) because its digital and because of the Internet. Next time you as a customer makes an online purchase, just reflect for a moment of all the work being done, how much is done by a computer and how much by you?

To understand the disruptive nature of these three forces, just take a look at industries such as the travel, movies, tax or advertising. So what about higher education? Well, I believe many ingredients are present to be transformed. It’s an industry which relies heavily on sharing knowledge, which is ever more present in digital form. It requires people interacting which is bound to geographical limitations in the real world, but not in the digital world. In the traditional world, top domain experts are physically bound to one or a few institutions. But in a digitally interconnected world, they could theoretically be teaching to all universities worldwide simultaneously. If there appears to be one industry ready for an extreme digital make-over, it must be the industry of higher education.

Upon close inspection, one can start to see different experiments to organize higher education in different way. Think of instructional strategies such as flipped classrooms, courses targeted at new customer segments such as MOOC’s, or programs and institutes such as Seth Godin’s altMBA and Singularity University. Things are definitely starting to change, but how come it is taking so long?

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