Higher ed’s brave new frontier: Part 2

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, explained how cultural, social, and economic factors converge to create trends in consumer behavior. Later James Surowiecki, wrote The Wisdom of Crowds to explain how group intelligence could be used to benefit mankind.

A popular example of group intelligence has been the TV game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Contestants are asked questions from history and popular culture, and when stumped, allowed to query the audience. When audience members are polled for answers during the show, they are correct 91 percent of the time.

Modern academic fields such as marketing and behavioral finance draw upon group intelligence data to identify and predict the rational and irrational behavior of buyers and investors.

While many in academia are still stuck in the paradigm that every person needs to know every detail themselves, our fluid communication systems enable us to tap into answers “at the speed of need” and the combined thinking of groups is far superior to the lone individual.

Group intelligence helps eliminate “weakest link” problems with an emerging workforce that is able to adapt to whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Old world academia was built around snapshots of intelligence, with each one creating another block in the foundational base of modern thought. With the rate of these snapshots increasing exponentially, we can now witness the strobe light effect of shifting intelligence transforming into a full motion picture of real-time brilliance.

Helping Colleges Survive

Colleges are being pushed in a number of directions but the big dividing points will be oriented around in-person vs. online, and for the in-person side of the equation, doing the things in-person that cannot be done through online education.

1.) Lower Pricing for Online Education. Online education can be delivered far more efficiently than using a dedicated classroom to coordinate time and location schedules for all those involved. Over time online education will become well-designed commodities that can be delivered far beyond the walls of a single university. The lower cost of online education will then be used to offset the cost of the on-campus experience. In many situations, students will be allowed to select the ratio of online vs. in-person classes to give them better control of the costs. As this transition takes place, individual tuition cost will begin to decline, but overall student populations will begin to expand.

2.) Classroom Shift – From Lectures and Tests to Group Experiences. As colleges begin to wrap their mind around “doing the things in-person that cannot be done through online education,” existing campuses will transition into interactive experiential learning centers. Students today tend to resent the one-way flow of information. They no longer wish to be “lectured to.” They want to participate. A whole new generation of tools and equipment are being designed to shift people from mere “absorbers of information” to full-blown “experience participants.”

3.) Group Experiences – Relationship-Building. One of the greatest values of the college experience is the life-long relationships that develop in the campus setting. This benefit is lost with most online education systems. Social networks allow students to form “weak relationships” with people around the world, and weak relationships have their own advantages. But working and living side-by-side with people is the foundation for “strong relationships” with far greater degrees of interest and caring. Strong relationships remain the foundational underpinnings of business communities, and colleges serve as an ideal Petri dish for new relationships to germinate and blossom.
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4.) Closing the Gap between Experts and Students. Education has traditionally consisted of the two fundamental elements of teaching and learning, with a heavy emphasis on teaching. Throughout history, the transfer of information from the teacher to the learner has been done on a person-to-person basis, with a teacher lecturing to a group of students. This approach, however, requires the teacher to be an expert on every topic that they teach, and great inefficiencies lie in the slow and painful process of creating new experts. Modern communication systems enable students to eliminate the teachers in the middle, and learn directly from the experts. As an example, a scientist that makes a breakthrough can now broadcast their findings directly to students around the world.

5.) Transition to One-Hour Learning Modules. With the pace of society ratcheting faster every year, fewer and fewer people find themselves able to schedule their time around a class that meets three times a week for the next 12 weeks. Many students are lost because they are not able to mesh their schedule with the archaic you-need-to-adapt-to-our-schedule attitude of colleges. Colleges that organize their offerings around flexible one-hour learning modules will have a far easier time attracting students. Some learning experiences may involve a grouping of 2, 5, or even 10 units, but the majority will transition towards a basic one-hour learning modules. One-hour units will then be combined to form traditional college credits.

6.) Hyper-Individualized Learning Systems. Learning what we want, when we want it – shifting away from a prescribed course agendas to ones that are hyper-individualized, self-selected, and scheduled at times that sync well with the student will dramatically change levels of motivation and participation. Since each student comes with their own unique mixture of skills, desires, and preferences, the sooner a student can focus in on the traits and talents they excel at, the quicker they will be able to find a meaningful direction for themselves.

7.) College-Level Learning Camps. Many kinds of learning camps are already in existence, but we will see an explosive growth in college-based camps oriented around personal experiences. Marine biology is best learned through working with marine life in all its many forms. The best way to learn history is to travel to the battlefields, take tours of the castles, walk through the ancient ruins, dress up in the ancient clothing and sleep overnight in a wigwam or cliff dwelling. The best way to become a plumber is to work with a skilled plumber and perform hands-on work fixing real world problems. Learning camps, ranging from one-day camps to multi-week camps, will begin to proliferate around specific topics. Some camps will be more academic-related areas of study such as math and science, while others will deal with more skill-related topics like woodworking or auto repair. Each camp will have its own identity, use its own in-house experts, and will focus on a specific learning experience.

8.) An Era of Constant Experimentation – In the end, colleges will need to enter an era of constant experimentation. The steady shifting of technologies, attitudes, and lifestyles demand a symbiotic relationship be formed between colleges and their students. And this will never be a static relationship.

Final Thoughts
Headlines around the world are painting a grim picture ahead for higher education. It doesn’t take bionic ears to hear the moans of anxiety emanating from college boardrooms as they not only wrestle with declining revenue streams, but also a shift in demand for higher ed.
Here are a few of the more recent headlines:
• “Default rate for repayment of for-profit college loans hits 25 percent” – Washington Post – Feb 11, 2011
• “Declining by degree: Will America’s universities go the way of its car companies?” – The Economist – Sept 2, 2010
• “Once the Leader, U.S. Drops to 12th in College Degrees” – New York Times – July 23, 2010
• “Placing the Blame as Students Are Buried in Debt” – New York Times – May 10, 2010
• “Why Did 17 Million Students Go to College?” – The Chronicle of Higher Education – Oct 20, 2010
• “There Are 5,000 Janitors in the U.S. with PhDs” – Gizmodo – Oct 22, 2010
• “The Ivory Tower is Headed for a Fall” – ColoradoBiz – July 19, 2010
The last headline is an article I wrote that includes many other statistics and indicators.
As the same time though, the stage is being set for many new opportunities, and these new opportunities will pave the way for a few visionary leaders to emerge, and an entire new era of next generation academia to explode around us.

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