Who will survive?
The dynamics of education in the 21st Century are very different from those witnessed in previous years. In the last century, education (in all its forms) was based on the assumption that knowledge content was scarce, and that formal education (university, college, school) was the only place it could be accessed. Then along came the World Wide Web. Things changed, and they changed dramatically. Within a short space of time, user generated content in all its forms began to assume prominence. In the age of social media, content is no longer scarce. It is abundant, and although questions still remain over the accuracy and provenance of some content, much is usable and useful for informal learning. Do you want to know how to make Baked Alaska? (with Gordon Ramsay as your personal tutor no less!) Need to know how to build a computer? Like to learn how to waltz, or play blues guitar? Interested in the link between quantum physics and consciousness? It's all there on YouTube, waiting for you to watch it. For free. Wikipedia, the online crowd-sourced encyclopaedia, hosts over 14 million articles on just about every subject under the sun. They are constantly being updated as events occur around the globe. Citizen journalism is now a regular feature in much of mainstream media news coverage. We could go on, but I think the point has been made. Content is now abundant, accessible, and can be created as it is required. Content isn't king anymore. Context is.
What will the future hold for education? The education systems of the previous century are outmoded, based on factory models of mass instruction that was fit for the period. There is a new world of work now. It demands change from education. Many universities and colleges are traditional and conservative, but change is constant and exponential. Institutions will need to respond to these changes if they wish to survive. Fortunately, new models of education are now emerging, many of which avoid content and instruction, and instead focus on expertise, tutoring, mentoring, guidance and specialism. Student centred approaches focus on personalised learning, and exploit the potential of personal technologies that enable any time, anywhere learning. This is quite a departure for education. It is a seismic shift that will have profound implications for formal education in the coming years. We can expect to see many institutions scrabbling to change their business models over the next decade as they compete for ever shrinking markets, and more demanding students. The more conservative institutions, placing their trust in their tradition and past reputation will stay as they are, resisting change. Many of these will die. In the worst case scenario, we can also expect to see many institutions going under, because they will not be able to respond to the new demands, or compete in the new market. At best, some institutions might expect is to be subsumed into more successful institutions.
The successful institutions will be those that see the gaps and exploit them; they will be leaner, more efficient organisations that understand why knowledge is no longer a commodity. They will be institutions that can clearly discern the connections between learning and business, between technology and pedagogy, between individuals and society. The successful, surviving educational organisations will be those who have the ability to adapt, respond quickly to global trends. They will be the universities and colleges that are agile enough to change when needed and stand their ground when required. Will we see the death of the educational institution? No, we will not. There will always be a need for sound, organised education. What is in question is the nature of that organisation. The factory model of educational provision is no longer relevant, and no longer desirable. Universities and colleges that persist in this mode can expect hard times. What we will see is a drastic pruning of the dead wood, to make way for new shoots of growth to emerge.
Next time: How institutions can respond to the challenges
Who will survive? by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.