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The five-year education pipeline: Part 2


Early in 2007 (exactly five years ago), I wrote a paper that described all of the components of a fully integrated online learning system. Many pieces of the original architecture I predicted have already begun to take shape. Here is a quick assessment of the pieces that are still missing.

  • Rapid Courseware-Builder – Several sites are developing courseware builders, yet to date there is nothing that can be done quickly.
  • Courseware Standards – Once we develop some base standards around what constitutes a standardized learning module, such as time (30 or 60 minute modules), attributes (learning styles), and taxonomies (categorizations for prerequisites), an entire new industry of course designers will emerge to meet these standards. There is an undeniable opportunity here for someone who manages to take the lead.
  • Modality Agnostic, Language Agnostic – Learning comes in many forms ranging from reading text, to listening to audio, to watching video, to hands-on experiences, and more. The standardized learning module needs to accommodate all modes of sensory input and learning experiences.
  • Sustainable Paid Model – Education is never free. It requires time, commitment, and understanding. Similarly, a well-functioning online learning system needs some revenue stream to incentivize good content and insure its long-term survivability.
  • Student-Driven, Industry-Driven Ratings System – So far no systems allow for multiple forms of rating, such as student ratings combined with industry (think IEEE or American Chemical Society) grading of content.
  • Student Preference Engine (What should I take next?) – Every student’s interests and preferences will change over time. A well-designed system will be able to decipher personal whims and integrate those changing desires into a new kind of preference engine that suggests what they will want to learn next.
  • Alternative Credentialing System – Colleges and Universities currently have a lock on the granting of the all-important college credits. Credits, as they exist today, will be a poor match for the online world currently emerging. For this reason, there is a golden opportunity for someone to reinvent the credit system in a way that will work well in global online learning environment.
  • Learning Camps – Since a large portion of information requires physical touch-and-feel learning and cannot be conveyed in a digital-only format, a new breed of learning camps will emerge that are closely integrated with the online system.

Eight Things You Won’t Find in a Course Delivery College in the Future

Over time we will see colleges split into two different models that will emphasize either course delivery or knowledge creation. Those colleges involved only in course delivery will become very price competitive as online courseware becomes universally distributed. Most will be seeking unique ways to differentiate themselves and assert some new competitive advantage.

Here are a few things you won’t find in future colleges that only emphasize course-delivery:

  1. A Physical Campus – Most physical campuses will evolve into a clustering of learning camps and knowledge creation organizations.
  2. Dormitories – Traditional dormitories will be converted into a variety of short-stay residences, longer-stay apartments, or multi-use facilities.
  3. Expensive Textbooks – The days of the expensive physical textbook are numbered.
  4. Credit Hours – An alternative credentialing system will soon emerge.
  5. 4-Year Degrees – Traditional 4-year degrees will be replaces with lifetime learning credentials. Masters and PhDs will become junior achievement levels in a much larger system that recognizes far higher levels of accomplishments.
  6. Sports Teams – Colleges in the future won’t be able to manage the overhead of today’s elaborate collegiate sports competitions. Existing sports programs that are self-sufficient will transition into community-based sports leagues.
  7. Classrooms – While some form of classroom will always exist, the any-time, any-place advantages of online course delivery will make the vast majority of them obsolete.
  8. Teachers – Yes, we will also have a long-term need for teachers, but in the course-delivery college of the future, where courses are delivered online, teachers, trainers, and professors will be replaced with coaches who can assist whenever someone gets stuck.

Unleashing Our True Potential

Teaching requires experts. Learning only requires coaches.

We are shifting from a teaching model to a learning model.

In order to teach a topic, the person in the front of the room has to be an expert on the topic. There simply aren’t enough experts to go around. As we move into online learning environments, we will move away from teachers to coaches – people who are experts at helping people learn.

To some this may seem like a subtle distinction, but it will have a profound effect on today’s educational systems.

Final Thoughts

Business professionals in the future will require twice as much training as their counterparts today just to be competitive.

As we move into a globally competitive environment, the competition will stiffen, and our need to shift gears will happen at a moment’s notice. We will no longer have the time and place luxuries of waiting for education to happen.

If your entire universe of courseware options for training is the 2,000 courses offered by most universities, you will find yourself at a severe disadvantage when competing against someone who was trained through a system like iTunes, with over 500,000 course options currently and millions more in the future.

The transition ahead for colleges and universities will be messy as competing forces on both sides of the change movement begin to form. Moving along the same lines as virtually every other industry of the past, colleges will be forced to become more efficient, doing more for less.

Over time, this transition will offer tremendous benefits to society. In much the same way that ancient libraries had their books chained to the podiums, colleges have tried to chain learning to their campuses. Unleashing these chains of learning will serve as a cathartic release for the entire world


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Thomas Frey

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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