The expanding power and reach of technology radically redefines the capacity of people and organizations – including colleges and universities around the world. Younger generations are growing up immersed in a visual experience that thoughtful observers claim is not only changing what they can do, but also how they think and how they experience the world.
They are growing up reading computer screens and searching the Web, playing computer games, and learning how to think visually, logically and analytically as they do it. As a result, today's students – and all who follow them – will have a different sense of themselves, their power, and their ability to interact with each other and the world.
We have the capacity to throw out the traditional curriculum, to be sure. But technology also gives us the tools to let students with similar academic or curricular interests converse with and learn from each other as they do their work. And heretofore unimagined design flexibility gives both institutions and learners the capacity to break through to better teaching and learning through better alignment of learning styles, intelligence and pedagogy. We have the capacity today to redefine our use of time, space and responsibility in a world where anyone can learn anytime, anyplace.
While tradition has been maintained in schools, the world around these schools has changed dramatically. And whether technology is viewed as a way of protecting tradition or changing it, technology can no longer be resisted by those who teach and those who fund teaching, because it is now as basic to learning as the ABCs.
Crossing the Chasm
The chasm must be crossed – and can be crossed – if we have leaders willing to take necessary risks. Now is the time to close the gap between the haves and have-nots; now is the time to cross the chasm between our campuses and the rest of society.
It will take an investment not only of money, but also of courage, inventiveness and knowledge about learning. It will demand that a consensus emerge among policymakers, lawmakers, taxpayers and leaders in business and the media. And it will require leadership: Respected voices need to be heard championing the change.
As we look ahead to the year 2025, higher education must get over the conceit that traditional institutions and organizational structures will control the future development of higher education services as they have in the past.
The synergy generated by the emerging forces is not controlled by institutions; it is embedded in the surrounding communities outside their walls. In 20 or so years, the education mainstream will look very different from the way it looks today.
Programs, practices and services that operate on the margins of higher education today – or have not yet been invented – will migrate to its center. And services and combinations of resources not yet conceived will dot the center of the education landscape.
Dr. Peter Smith is assistant director general for education for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Former Positions: Founding President of California State University-Monterey Bay; President of the Community College of Vermont; Vermont State Senator and Lieutenant Governor; U.S. Congressman
Author: The Quiet Crisis: How Higher Education Is Failing America