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Posted: August 12, 2013

More on preparing our minds for thoughts unthinkable

Six future scenarios

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part 1.)

Recently, I predicted that 50 percent of colleges will collapse by 2030, and the fallout from these failures will not be pleasant. However, as with all predictions, the fate of these institutions is not inevitable. A few will find a way to navigate through the radical transformation ahead, but it helps to have a clearer picture of what tomorrow will bring.

Colleges have a far greater calling than simply delivering courses. Yes, professors lecturing in the classroom will still exist for many years to come, but the resources of academia are far to valuable to waste on repetitiously presenting the same class over and over again.

One of their most valuable skills, that doesn’t get used nearly enough, is their ability to create new courseware.

Similar to the way television networks unveil their “new fall lineup,” next generation colleges will periodically unveil a new courseware series.

Here are a series of six scenarios to better explain how courseware development teams will work:

Scenario #1: A rapid courseware developer’s package will be created that enables colleges to create their own courses and make money from every sale. Each course is framed around a standardized 60-minute format with a variety of media inputs. Courses can be tagged with approvals by institutions, rated by students, and framed around a personalized adaptive learning engine.

Scenario #2: Courseware rating systems will be developed to add integrity to the rapidly evolving system. Rating systems will be structured as a checks-and-balance system where individual groups, colonies, or rating services can create their own authority and place tags of approval or disapproval on courses. These tags will be a central feature of the search criteria used by smart student profilers and courseware recommendation engines. As example, a person may only want to take courses approved by an association like IEEE, a particular university, a church body, or political group.

Scenario #3: Colleges that focus on research will have an advantage and will leverage each research projects by spinning off a series of new courses surrounding their research. Projects will not only develop their own revenue stream through new courses, but the research will also attract many new students. Tech transfer efforts will be aided by the courseware as well. Courseware will become a broadcast medium through which others will learn about new technologies as well as related opportunities. With the added publicity from effective new courses, government and corporate grants will become more readily available to fund research.

Scenario #4: Colleges will aggressively seek out research projects to better inform us of the world to come. Whenever a natural disaster strikes, news teams serve as the first wave of information about what just happened. In the future, college research teams will serve as the second wave. Every famine, hurricane, place crash, and tidal wave will attract several college teams, each looking at different aspects of the situation. With research teams scouring the earth for new projects, some will look at a tidal wave from a physics-hard sciences approach such as the precursors to wave formation, others will look at the economic impact, political turmoil, social shifts, and other long-term generational effects it may have on a community’s customs, language, and neighboring influences.

Scenario #5: Colleges will begin to orient their business around a lifelong relationship with their students. Some traditional courses will still exist and others will be oriented around short on-campus experiences such as two-week learning camps. But a growing portion of the learning will take place online. Since the number of people setting foot on campus will be dropping, successful colleges will begin adding more research and experiential learning components to their offerings.

Scenario #6: Colleges will begin experimenting with higher and higher achievement levels. In recognition of learning that will take place over a lifetime, degrees and diplomas will be created for extreme and super extreme levels of learning. Masters and PhDs will only be junior-level accomplishments on these new rating scales. With learning made easy and expanded over a lifetime, colleges will be able to capitalize on new ways for individuals to differentiate themselves from the masses. Diplomas will become as individualized as the accomplishments they reflect. These uber-diplomas will become an ongoing driver for continued involvement and serve as enduring revenue streams for the institution.

These six scenarios are intended as a tool for gaining a new perspective on what may be possible. At the same time I’d love to hear your thoughts and perhaps a few variations and rewriting of these themes. 

Final Thought

Prediction: In the future the largest web property on the Internet will be oriented around education.

As the price of education drops, people will begin to “consume” far more education. In our increasingly competitive work environments, with people from around the world competing for the same work we do, adding new skills to a future credentialing system will become an everyday occurrence. 

In the U.S. we have a total of 4,495 degree-granting institutions sharing the tuition money being paid by over 20 million students. It is a growing system built on easy money with great inertia. 

But public higher education is changing, and it’s changing in some very fundamental ways whether we like it or not. The forces driving these changes aren’t simply financial; they reflect major shifts in student attitudes, expectations, and demands.

For those of you associated with an Ivy League College where your acceptance rate for incoming freshmen is under 8 percent, it’s easy to ignore forecasts of change. But while the Ivy Leaguers may be safe, many smaller institutions are on a collision course with destiny.

The students of tomorrow will need to prepare themselves for a higher calling. This higher calling will be to pre-empt crises before they occur, anticipate disasters before they happen, and solve some of mankind’s greatest problems, starting with the problem of our own ignorance and shortcomings.

Much like a person walking through a dark forest with a flashlight that illuminates but a short distance ahead, each step forward gives us a new perspective by adding light to what was previously dark. The students of tomorrow will be our bigger flashlights.

Until now, ours has been a dance with the ordinary. History shows us that we are immersed in cycles, systems, and patterns that repeat again and again. However, tomorrow’s history books will show us that all patterns are made to be broken, and all cycles waiting to be transformed.

Colleges will need to position themselves on the bleeding edge of what comes next. We will always need the backward-looking to understand where we have come from, but a new breed of visionaries, bestowed with unusual tools for preempting disasters, will become our most esteemed professionals.

Future colleges will become our checks and balance for the status quo.

The grand mission for colleges in the future may well be phased as: “Preparing humanity for worlds unknown, preparing our minds for thoughts unthinkable, and preparing our resolve for struggles unimaginable.”

Please take a few moments to weigh in on this topic. I’d love to hear what you think.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

Interesting perspective. While I have not tried online courses, I can see that they could fit into a working person's life much more easily than a traditional classroom experience, and it could be much more cost effective. Interestingly, I have seen course prices paid by some of my employees where online versions of the course cost MORE than the classroom version at the same institution. By John Unruh on 2013 08 12
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