Aug 28 2012

What Will Higher Education Look Like in 2020?

Experts from around the country have conflicting views on the future of higher education.

There are conflicting views on what the future holds for higher education. Most people — such as Michele Pistone and Mark Greenfield — agree that we can expect change. But will that change be fundamental?

Yes, use of electronic textbooks is growing, the flipped classroom is catching on and distance learning is more than a fad, but the institution of higher education has weathered storms before. A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University suggests that our university system may not be so different in 8 years.

For a millennium, universities have been considered the main societal hub for knowledge and learning. And for a millennium, the basic structures of how universities produce and disseminate knowledge and evaluate students have survived intact through the sweeping societal changes created by technology—the moveable-type printing press, the Industrial Revolution, the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and computers.

Today, though, the business of higher education seems to some as susceptible to tech disruption as other information-centric industries such as the news media, magazines and journals, encyclopedias, music, motion pictures, and television. The transmission of knowledge need no longer be tethered to a college campus. The technical affordances of cloud-based computing, digital textbooks, mobile connectivity, high-quality streaming video, and “just-in-time” information gathering have pushed vast amounts of knowledge to the “placeless” Web. This has sparked a robust re-examination of the modern university’s mission and its role within networked society.

Read the overview of the study here.

Thirty-nine percent of the study’s survey respondents believe that “in 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today.” And while the majority of the people surveyed think that higher education will be significantly different, evidence supports views like that of Richard Holeton, director of academic computing services at Stanford University Libraries:

Change in higher education, as they say, is like turning an aircraft carrier. In eight or nine years we will continue to see incremental changes, but not the more radical transformations described.

Download a PDF of the full survey results.

What do you think the future holds for higher education?

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