Last week, Bain & Company released a study claiming that if current trends continue, the higher education system won’t be able to meet the diverse needs of the country’s student population in 20 years. Now, in collaboration with Elon University, Pew Internet’s released a report claiming university-level education will be adopting new methods of teaching and certification by 2020, “driven by opportunity, economic concerns and student and parent demands.”
What’s been made clear is the education system needs a change — that’s no surprise. What still isn’t clear is how professors and institutions will adapt to that change, if they even start making a change at all.
A recent survey by the Babson Survey Research Group found that 58 percent of faculty members described themselves as filled with “more fear than excitement” over the growth of online education. Although about 75 percent of the respondents were full-time faculty members, “many of whose teaching careers predate the online boom,” the statistics still don’t look promising.
Pew Internet and Elon University surveyed 1,021 Internet experts, researchers, observers and users. Out of those respondents, 60 percent agreed with the statement that by 2020 “there will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources … a transition to ‘hybrid’ classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings.”
They’re not thrilled, however. A majority bemoaned the concept. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, wrote in the overview:
They are worried over the adoption of technology-mediated approaches that they fear will lack the personal, face-to-face touch they feel is necessary for effective education. Most noted that economic forces will compel the changes. Yet, a share of this group was excited about the possibility for universities to leverage new online capabilities and peer-to-peer collaborations that they believe would enhance knowledge creation and sharing.
What schools need to understand is this, though: A shift is happening. They can’t avoid it, they can’t hide from it and they certainly can’t ignore it if they want to survive in today’s economy. As Jeremy Johnson, co-founder of education startup 2tor, has said, “The 21st century will largely be dominated by the schools that go online first.”
And peer-to-peer collaboration isn’t lost on every platform. Through 2tor, professors can interact with their students in real-time. Boston-based GatherEducation is also allowing instructors to create virtual, interactive classrooms, using nothing more than a Microsoft Kinect, TV, laptop and/or iPad.
Of course, there are downsides to online learning, but in an ideal world, alternative forms of education would work as a supplementary tool to traditional education. Together, they can create something that re-shapes the boring, old lectures that students aren’t even paying attention to. Using these new tools, professors can keep students online, but outside of the classroom and after hours. In the classroom, students will then be forced to communicate face-to-face offline about what it is they learned while during homework.
Instead of online education being revered as a threat, it can then be seen as an asset, and schools can more quickly evolve to ensure they’re staying afloat come 2020.
Sure, the future of higher education might sound scary with all this “meltdown” talk being thrown around, but schools can start taking preventative measures.