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Study explores the future of higher education

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Study explores the future of higher education

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With the rise in popularity of MOOCs, there has been a significant amount of discussion surrounding the future of higher education.  Alas, most of these discussions have focused primarily on the institutions themselves, and the role things like technology will play in changing how they supply higher education, if indeed it is them that supply it.

A recent report from the University of Houston has gone about the issue in a slightly different way however, and has instead focused upon what students will need in order to thrive.

The study identified a number of key themes emerging in higher education today:

  • Power was shifting from institutions to students
  • Just as work/life balance boundaries are blurring, so to are aspects of a students life involving learning
  • Technology will play a big part in both the challenges and the solutions facing the higher education industry

The project began after the research team perceived a gap in the market of existing research into the topic.  They suggest that much of the existing canon assume the higher education market will either stay largely as it is, or it will be hugely disrupted by MOOCs and the like.  Little research has gone into seeing how students could be better served.

The researchers identified a number of novel student requirements that are largely not being met at the present time.  Many of these changes are driven by the shifting demographics of the student body, with it increasingly likely that the student will fall outside of the traditional 18-22 year old age bracket.  Indeed, the research revealed that just 28% of the student body are from that demographic.

“That’s a sizeable number, but it’s a minority,” they said. “The rest, if the traditional institutions don’t serve them, somebody else will.”

For instance, this is one area where online classes have really filled a gap in the market.  The researchers suggest that a more flexible and adaptive market would be an ideal fit for this demanding age group.  The report went on to outline nine distinct requirements from the student body of the future:

  1. Mentoring
  2. Credentialing or issuing academic credit for life experiences
  3. Personalized learning
  4. Continuous learning
  5. Re-skilling so that students know both what skills they will need and how to master them
  6. Continuous and real time feedback
  7. Frameworks to help students deal with uncertain situations
  8. Physical and virtual environments and tools to support learning
  9. The ability to communicate their personal value proposition

The report concludes by reinforcing the message that a flexible approach will be required.  Even within general demographic groups, the requirements of students will differ greatly.  It’s certainly an interesting report and well worth a read if you work, or have an interest in, this fascinating area.

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