The Learning Class
(Page 4 of 7)
Technology upsets the traditional hierarchies and categories of education. It can put the learner at the center of the educational process. Increasingly, this means students will decide what they want to learn, and when, where, and with whom; and they will learn by doing. Functions that have long hung together, like research and teaching, learning and assessment, or content, skills, accreditation, and socialization, can be delivered separately.
Here are four trends guiding this transformation:
1. The 80/20 Rule. Most of the growth in higher education over the next century will come from the 85 percent of students who are “nontraditional” in some way—older, working adults, or ethnic minorities. They will increasingly attend the 80 percent of institutions that are nonselective, meaning that they admit the vast majority of applicants. This includes most mainstream public universities as well as community colleges and for-profit colleges, which saw the most growth between 2002 and 2006.
For-profit colleges are the only U.S. institutions that are seriously committed to expanding their numbers, community colleges already enroll half of all undergraduates, and both disproportionately enroll the demographic groups that dominate the next generation of Americans: Hispanics, all other minority groups, first-generation college students. Some of the boldest thinking is happening in these “nontraditional” institutions. Concerns about quality and affordability in the new mainstream of higher education have to be addressed head-on.
2. The Great Unbundling. Universities historically have combined many social, educational, and other benefits in one-stop shopping. Increasingly, some of these resources (faculty time, for example) are strained, while others (like written course content) are approaching a marginal cost of zero. As it has with industries from music to news, digital technology will compel institutions to specialize and collaborate, find economies of scale and avoid duplications.
Books can be freed from the printed page, courses freed from geographical classrooms and individual faculty members, and students freed from enrolling in a single institution.
Stripped-down institutions that focus on instruction or assessment only, or on a particular discipline or area, will find larger and larger audiences. The most cutting-edge sciences and the most traditional liberal arts can both flourish in a specialized, concentrated, and technologically enhanced setting. I have seen professors elevate the craft of teaching rhetoric, composition, and critical thinking itself to new heights using social media and applying cutting-edge research about learning.
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