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10 Ways Higher Education Could be Transformed to Support the Needs of a Changing World

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Helena Calle

Is there a future for higher education? There is probably no other industry or social institution quite as invested in the future than education, yet its struggles with self-reinvention manifest as a ticking time bomb, putting the future of both the institutions and wider society at risk. Almost every commentary on a number of social ills has a subtext that highlights the uncertainties around the future of education. Poor civic engagement? Blame education. Job preparation? Fix education. STEM skills? Reinvent education.

In this context, a constructive futurist approach would be to ask what aspects of higher education today are worth preserving, which ones could or should be relegated to history, and which have the most potential to create desirable futures?

The world is changing fast and requiring solutions to ever-more complex problems. Society is looking to education to provide the foundations from which individuals can address these global challenges. As a thought exercise in identifying the various pressure points in the future of education, here are 10 ways higher education could be transformed to support the needs of a changing world.

  1. Blended Learning. Students should be able to draw on inputs from multiple organizations, combining online courses, live participation, in work, and in-community activities to create customized qualifications
  2. A centre of community learning. Higher education institutions could become genuine 24/7/365 community centres where adults can come to socialise with peers, take part in any lecture, deliver their own lectures, and participate in the research of the university. At night, classroom facilities could be used to educate those working elsewhere during the day, and even provide facilities from which they can launch and run new businesses.
  3. Dropout University. Higher education should encourage dropouts, to allow students to learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it. There should be no expectations for students to commit to a certain amount of time in the institution or take a certain sequential set of courses. Higher education should also set aside its largely exclusive association with the young adult age group and embrace all ages and life stages as pools of potential students.
  4. Self-Grading and Peer Grading. The use of technology to allow for students to conduct highly transparent and constructive forms of self-grading and peer grading could bring about more meaningful learning experiences. Rather than depend on instructors’ subjective evaluations, more courses should require students to assess their own growth and learning, and that of their peers. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and blockchain could provide the records and support a student would need to evaluate their own work objectively and give them the ability to provide anonymous input on the work of their peers. In this scenario, instructors are facilitators and mentors, and the classroom is less hierarchical than the past and today.
  5. Uber for Tutoring. Online platforms could provide a complementary service to match learners with local tutors certified by the institution. Seniors in retirement communities, aspiring actresses, and international students could all become tutors on history, theatre, and foreign languages, for example. The reciprocal rating system would guarantee a mutually beneficial experience, and ultimately a high-quality performance on both parts. In those cases where local tutors are not available, online options could also be provided, but the student would ideally attend a special location where he or she would have a fully immersive experience to connect with the online tutor.
  6. From Credits to Blockchain Badges. Following the Scout method of badges or patches to signify achievements, each person would have an un-hackable blockchain identity to keep record of the lessons learned in and outside of school. Other members of society would serve as witnesses or seconders of the accomplishments, and their blockchain identities would share that specific interaction. The decentralization of education is coming with a peer-to-peer, lifelong, and lifewide learning.
  7. Pay-It-Forward System to Fund your Degree. A flexible payment system for courses. Students would not need money to pay for tuition. They can pay the fees of enrollment by contributing with their expertise on a subject they master. Students will be able to develop new courses or enhance existing ones in exchange for their own enrollment fees. This approach motivates lifelong learners to share their knowledge and skills with other students, but also ensures up-to-date content in each subject.
  8. Biometrics for Personalized Learning. Online courses might incorporate biometric observation, such as eye-tracking software that measures pupil dilatation, which identifies the level of motivation and understanding that a student has on a specific topic. This technology would allow courses to automatically adapt towards students’ needs and ensure deep understanding of each subject.
  9. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Holographic Technology to Create Contexts to Practice Skills. Classroom facilities equipped with technology that allows students to practice specific skills such as team work, creative thinking, problem solving, and other work skills of the future. Students would be exposed virtually to different situations typically encountered in the work place, and would learn how to respond accurately in each situation. This learning experience could provide students the opportunity to train themselves and actively learn essential employability skills.
  10. A Strong Connection Between the School System, University Programs, and Employers. There could be a close connection between each of the learning stages and the industries and sectors which will ultimately employ the majority of students. They could work collaboratively to understand the student needs and employer expectations. This collaboration process is likely to require constantly adapting curricula to meet with changing industry demands. Technology and connectivity could help facilitate this process.


This article was published in FutureScapes. To subscribe, click here.

Image: by the digital artist


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