Universities as we know them began nearly a millennium ago as elite institutions that admitted only a few students from privileged families.Over time, the doors have opened wider, first helping give rise to a middle-class, and more recently to increasing numbers of women and minorities.
Yet college today remains an experience not available to everyone who needs it—largely due to boundaries set by cost, time and space.
Technology is changing that. The growth of the internet and spread of mobile networking devices have untethered education in ways that are eliminating geographic and other physical barriers to a top-quality education.
Consider India, which has 600 million people under the age of 25 and an outdated university system struggling to grow a workforce to support the third-largest economy in the world.
An analysis a few years ago showed that, to address educational needs using traditional methods, India would need to build 1,500 campuses andfind qualified instructors to staff them.
Other countries with equally limited education infrastructure face similar challenges if they wish to develop a globally competitive workforce.
Online education, by reducing cost and removing physical barriers, can open doors of opportunity to millions of people who otherwise might not have access to post-secondary education. It also has the potential to change higher learning from a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience of earning a degree, to a continuing endeavor that helps people meet their education needs across a lifetime.
As reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people now in their 50s have changed jobs 11.3 times on average over their working lives. Both of these numbers are expected to dramatically increase over time.
Universities will continue to nurture new thinking, research and innovation within their walls. The residential college experience that is an invaluable experience to many young people will continue.
But teaching methods and models of delivery will certainly shift to fit our increasingly digital world. The ‘sage on the stage’ at a university will no longer be a common mode of delivery.
Universities will also devote considerably more effort to activities that occur outside the classroom, be it research, individual mentoring by faculty or senior students, team activities, volunteering, internships, study abroad, and many more types of work and experience.
Universities will largely distinguish themselves not by the content they deliver, but by the activities that support and enhance core-learning activities.
In unexpected ways, technology is opening doors not just to online learning but to the more traditional college experience as well.