Reimagining The Future of Higher Education

Aug 04, 2020

Big shifts in society occur when unexpected events or circumstances force widespread experimentation around a new idea. Right now, the Coronavirus pandemic is forcing global experimentation with remote teaching. There are several indicators that the pandemic is going to transform many aspects of life, and higher education is no exception. The future of higher education is taking shape, and universities and colleges are preparing to usher in a new era of virtual education. Here are three trends that will define the future of higher education:

Colleges will reevaluate the need for a four-year residential experience and switch to a hybrid educational model

Most higher education institutions operate on a standard four-year education model for their students. However, they will have to think about which parts of this model can be substituted, which parts can be supplemented, and which parts complemented by digital technologies.

For example, most college-level lectures that require minimal personalization or human interaction can be easily recorded as multi-media presentations that students can watch wherever and whenever they want. These commoditized parts of the curriculum can be easily delivered by an external instructor on Coursera. For example, teaching Pythagoras’ theorem is pretty much the same world over. For such courses, technology platforms can deliver the content to a large body of students at a low cost without compromising on the benefits of face to face interaction, since there is hardly any in these basic courses.

By freeing resources from courses that can be taught externally, colleges will be able to commit more resources to research-based teaching and personalized problem solving. Students will have more resources and opportunities to explore too, because they will not have to reside and devote four years at campuses. They can use the time they spend on campus to complete things that cannot be done remotely; such as electives, faculty office hours, interactions and career guidance. This hybrid model will save resources for colleges and students, and can help make college education more affordable for everyone.

Partnerships between tech giants and universities

According to Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, the Coronavirus pandemic has greased the wheels for big tech’s entry into higher education. Colleges and universities are already looking for digital technologies that can be deployed at scale to ensure that all of their students have access to virtual learning platform. Who better to offer these technologies than tech companies?

The post pandemic future will entail partnerships between the largest tech companies in the world and universities. MIT and Google. Microsoft and Berkeley. These partnerships will allow universities to expand enrollment dramatically through hybrid online-offline degrees without sacrificing their standards. As a result, students who could previously get into a second-tier college, such as Boston College, will be able to get into a first-tier college, such as MIT. As a result, more students will get access to better education at a lower cost, making it a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Change in mindset and behaviors will need to be facilitated

One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear is that not all faculty members are comfortable with virtual classrooms and there is a digital divide among those who have never taught online before, and younger faculty who are adept in newer technology. The same applies with students. Not all students are comfortable with online education. A huge part of college education is the experience that students get on campus; to be able to socialize with their peer group and the sense of competition that motivates them to excel.

If colleges are indeed going to partner with tech giants and implement state-of-the-art hybrid educational platforms, the mindsets of students and educators will need to be changed. Students will have to be convinced that they will have enough time on campus to socialize and live the college experience. Similarly, teachers will need to be sure that the online platforms they are using have a small learning curve and that they won’t have to spend more time learning than using the virtual learning platforms.

The future of higher education is still uncertain, but exciting at the same time. The Coronavirus pandemic has forced a global experiment with online education and remote teaching, and the perception of virtual learning has changed dramatically as its importance has grown. As this experiment continues to unfold and new changes take place, students, teachers and colleges must be prepared for a new future in higher education where technology and remote learning will lead the way forward.