Apr 28 2017

Iterative Strategies Fit the Pace of Change in Higher Education

Transformation in our industry has become a fact of life. Let’s make the best of it.

The pace of change is now faster than ever, or so says the common wisdom. I tend to agree with this assertion, in part because technology advancements are progressive. Each step forward builds upon the steps that preceded it. Today, a single “step” can have dramatic implications.

Consider the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence or virtual reality. The capabilities that make these possible have been emerging for decades — little by little, piece by piece.

But pull back your focus to take in the big picture, and the enormity of these innovations suddenly zooms into focus. Any one of these advances could radically transform the way we live, work, study and play, and we are on the verge of rapid progress in all of these areas.

Iterate and Repeat Innovation in Higher Ed

The changes we see in higher education today merely skim the surface of the changes that the next decade will bring. If these ultimately drive a radical redesign of the way we approach higher education, it won’t surprise me. In fact, that’s the prediction of the artificial intelligence expert, Joseph Qualls of the University of Idaho. He believes that in the future, the structure of higher education will be almost unrecognizable: Students will have access to highly personalized, AI-driven learning that’s a far cry from today’s model of group instruction.

Whether we focus on the pace of change or its content, it’s safe to assume that a continual state of flux has become our new normal. The notion that we will crest the next wave of change and then settle into a plateau for the next few years is highly unlikely.

So how do we cope when nothing seems settled, and permanence feels illusory? My advice is to take a cue from the design community, which has embraced iteration as a purposeful strategy. An iterative approach is built around gradual, ongoing improvement, and it’s an excellent fit for the era in which we find ourselves.

Instead of expecting the pace of change to abate, let’s expect higher education to stay malleable, flexible and ever-improving.