10 Higher Education Trends to Watch in 2015 & Beyond

Thanks to the University of Wisconsin Madison Department of Educational Policy Studies and the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE), I enjoyed sharing a draft paper and informal comments yesterday on When For-Profit and Non-Profit Meet: Monopolists, Entrepreneurs and Academics in Higher Education. I might be able to share a polished version of that paper at some point, but driving back from the event, I realized that I have failed to share my predictions post for this current year, something that I’ve done each year since 2012. So, five months into the year, here goes. I’ve decided to focus this list mainly on higher education trends and innovations, although some of them have parallels in the K-12 sector. These do not necessarily reflect the paper or comments shared in the mentioned presentation, but there is certainly some overlap.

Which trends should we watch in the second half of 2015 and beyond? This represents one of the more common types of questions people ask me. Which trends in education are most noteworthy? Which ones will persist and grow? Which ones will fade and wither? I try to add an important disclaimer when I step into a futurist role, even the near future, because education is one of those deeply political and regulated sectors, adding plenty of uncertainties in any claims. Nonetheless, here is my short list of ten. None of them are new, but I expect them to gain increased attention into the second half of 2015 and well beyond this year. Or, in some cases, look for interesting pivots or adjustments in these areas.

Customized / Personalized Programming

Some  higher education institutions are not positioned to respond to this growing request. As such, this is a promising opportunity for the more agile colleges and universities, continuing education units, as well as a range of education companies interested in providing training, courses, or educational opportunities. What I’m referring to here is the idea of a company or organization partnering with a University or an education company to create and offer custom training, courses, degrees, or programming. It might be a partnership to create a custom leadership training program for those who show promise in a given company. It might be a business school that offers a special cohort MBA program for a given employer, agreeing to integrate case studies and other elements that are directly related to that company. It might be a school district partnering with a college to design professional development (for credit or more) that helps teachers pursue specific district goals for improving student learning. There are so many possibilities. While this is not new, this approach is gaining more attention. A growing number of Universities are showing the interest and willingness to pursue these partnership. At the same time, we see existing education companies ramping up their capacity for these services as well as startups that specialize in such a model. For the latter, it isn’t the type of model that gains extensive interest from investors because such personalization sometimes prevents the scaling that leads to the payoffs they are seeking. As such, this leaves ample opportunity for willing colleges and Universities along with boutique education businesses.

Educational Partnerships

I’ve already written about the Starbucks / ASU partnership, but this is just the beginning. Expect to see several other high-profile announcements of similar partnerships over the next couple of years. Also scan the growing size of offices in Universities dedicated to building external partnerships. For the colleges, this helps them save marketing dollars, and sometimes allows them to pass that savings on the the students. For the employers, they have an employee perk to keep good talent, and raise up the next group of leaders by investing in their education. The PR for both sides doesn’t hurt either.

Big Data & Business Analytics in Education

Advancement wants it. Admission wants it. Marketing wants it. Professional advising staff wants it. More higher education leaders are interested in dashboards that give them a snapshot of the University status regarding key performance indicators. As blended and online learning grows, there are also more data points about student and faculty behavior that are recorded and can be mined. This world of informatics and analytics is growing quickly, and it is a massive money maker for software providers. Consider how some healthcare systems are paying a quarter of a billion dollars or more for implementations of new informatics systems. While not typical at that price point, Universities have already started investing hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) to implement data warehouses and analytic software. I don’t expect it to gain as much traction among faculty in the classroom this year, expect where there is experimentation with adaptive learning and the like, but that will potentially come within the next 2-4 years.

Alternative Education Meets Higher Education

I’m probably a little early on this one, but I still expect to see signs of it over the next 12-24 months. What I’m referring to is a form of what we’ve seen happening with independent schools, charter schools and magnet schools on the K-12 level. We see project-based schools, classical schools, self-directed learning academics, place-based learning schools, leadership academies, etc. I expect to see an equivalent emerge in the higher education space. Look for more colleges and Universities offering niche routes (sort of like the already existent honors colleges at some schools, but focused on niche approaches like project-based learning, service-learning, even self-directed learning. In addition, while this is not nearly as easy of a development, I expect to see the announcement of at least a few new higher education institutions over the next 1-2 years that have interesting niches and approaches, schools like Minerva or more long-standing schools like Antioch College, Bennington College, Goddard College and Prescott College.

Virtual Reality in Education 

This one will probably gain more traction on the k-12 level in 2015, but look for it to make a few headlines in higher education in 2015 and 2016 as well, especially given that some of the software is starting to catch up with the hardware in this industry. Events like the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference will give us a glimpse into near future uses in higher education.

The Rise of Higher Education Beyond Regionally Accredited Entities

As we continue to see the Department of Education and regional accrediting bodies trying to make sense of the developments and innovations in higher education, it puts innovation Universities at a disadvantage, especially the smaller to mid-sized schools. As a result, we will see foundations giving even more interest to education companies that are not bound by things like the federal financial aid system or regional accreditation. Expect more announcements from new and existing companies that provide courses, training, credentials, and “degrees” of their own; but not part of the standard regionally accredited higher education system. Many of these will earn their credibility through close connections, conversations and sometimes formal partnership with employers and professional organizations that oversee credentials for a given trade or field of work.

MOOC Credentials

We’ve heard a little bit about it in the past, and while I’m still not one to jump on the claims that MOOCs will make traditional higher education obsolete, this year and next will be the time when we see the growth of credentials (certificates, badges, etc.) and even traditional college credit being associated with learning demonstrated through MOOCs. Coursera and EdX are already engaged with this to some extent, but expect other players and for credentials from these sources to be refined, expanded, and gaining more traction. It should probably go without stating that there will be tension and push back on this one.

Competency-based Education

The Competency-based Education Network accepted its second group of 30 schools into the network in 2015 (I work at one of the new member schools). Beyond that network, I’m also directly aware of countless schools that have moved from interest to formal exploration, experimentation, and even implementation of competency-based programming. The scope of this trends impact will surprise many in higher education.

Self-Directed Learning

The most attention to this topic will continue to come beyond the walls of formal higher education. However, interest in self-directed learning is a natural progression of the digital revolution, driven by a combination of increased access to online content, resources, communities, etc; as well as education companies targeting “learners” with apps, services, and resources that allow them to reach formal and informal learning goals.

Self-Blended Learning

This is essentially self-directed learning finding its way in the formal learning environment. As more resources for learning emerge online and college students become further informed about them; we will continue to see creative and unexpected student-led “blends” used to help them find success in school and to achieve personal goals that are not being adequately supported by the formal college experience.

There are plenty of other trends that are likely to grow and expand, but I’m confident that these ten are here to stay. Expect to see them in more headlines, to learn about new products and services focused upon them, and for them to become more common aspects of higher education discourse.

What happens when…?” 6 Questions from Day 2 of #SXSWedu

Day 2 of SXSWedu comes to an end. What better way to end the day than to reflect on the rich conversations, presentations and interactions? Today I’ll do it in the form of 6 questions that highlight memorable moments of the day (That is apart from a great lunch and dinner with new and old friends. You’ll have to ask me in person about those.).

Question 1 – What happens when you apply a social entrepreneur’s mindset to addressing the fact that 90% of the hottest new jobs in Texas require a college degree, but less than 30% of high school graduates go to college…and many who go to college do not graduate?

You get PelotonU, a less-than-three-year old organization that provides funding for eligible students in the Austin area, connects them with regionally accredited competency-based programs (like College of America, WGU, and Patten University), offers mentoring, and creates a space for people to gather, learn, and get the support they need to persist and succeed.

This represents another example of what I’ve written about in the past as the un-bundling of higher education. In some ways, this is like the financial aid office, career services, student advising, and the tutoring center at a college. Only this isn’t a college. It is these types of services unbundled from a school, but then it connects with existing CBE schools to create a full and valuable learning experience for working students. Look for this model to expand over the next few years. I can see a day in the future when we see PelotonU-like services available in most major cities.

Question 2 – What happens when the US Vice President’s wife is a community college professor and she shows up at SXSWedu? 

You get a standing room only presentation with security guards all around the perimeter. You also get a polished and on point message about the importance of college education; making it “accessible, attainable and affordable for all Americans.” You get a champion for President Obama’s challenge to reduce the cost of a community college education to $0.

Question 3 – What happens when you get a passionate, competent and confident teacher; but put him in a school full of policies and practices that hinders his effectiveness?
According to one panelist at the “What a Student Needs from a Teacher for Success” presentation, you get a “subversive teacher,” one who says something like this, “I shut my door and I teach. I try not to let anybody do anything that keeps me from doing what I know is needed to help these students learn.” Good or bad? There are probably positives and negatives to such an approach. Regardless, this description is an invitation for us to ask how we can design or re-design learning communities where everyone is laser focused on the shared goal and vision of helping students thrive and learn.

 Question 4 – What happens when you put two engaged journalists on the main stage to debate whether good teaching is learned or in the genes?

You get a playful but interesting exploration of the challenges that we face as we think about what it takes to have highly effective teachers in our schools. While one camp says that we are best to get smarter people in the classroom, the other says that it is about getting the best trained. So, why not aim for both. Let’s put the smartest teachers with the best training (and a commitment to lifelong education) in the classrooms.

Question 5 – What happens when you take three long-time friends who grew up coding; put them together, and have them design product for young people that teaches coding fundamentals in a way that is engaging and not overly simple?
You get CodeMonkey, another welcome provider of an online tool that teaches computer programming to youth. You also get a University administrator and professor who proudly blogged about making it through challenge 5 in no time flat! Try out the game before you are too impressed.
Question 6 – What happens when you bring hundreds of edupreneurs and educational innovators to downtown Austin and tell them to hang out?
You get much more than a collection of presentations. You get days full of rich and serendipitous conversations and connections. Sometimes I wonder if this event would not be just as good if we took all the same people, put them in a large open space for three days, and told them to do something meaningful and valuable. This is my way of saying that the people are the best part of SXSWedu for me, and I suspect that is true for quite a few others.

Why it is Time to Move Beyond Integrating Technology

I had the opportunity to give the keynote at the University of Nebraska Lincoln Tech Edge Conference a few years ago. I was invited to speak about the future of education in an increasingly technological world. While futures is a more common theme for my work now, at that point, I focused more upon the current and emerging trends. Regardless, I enjoyed the opportunity to think about the future. Not being a futurist, I instead looked at the present and offered four or five candid statements about what I think is worthy of change. Looking at the present state of education, especially as it relates to educational technology, what changes should we make to collectively create a positive move in the broader field of education? With that in mind, I suggested that it is time to “move beyond” four or five things. This post is a reflection on the first of those. It is time to move beyond integrating technology.

By that, I do not mean that it is time to stop using technology. My concern is with the nature of the discourse that so often surrounds the phrase, “integrating technology.” My greatest concern comes when working with the administrators of our learning organizations as they talk about broad integration efforts. One of the more dominant efforts the past decade or two is the move toward school-wide one-to-one programs. Please note that my concern is not with 1:1 programs, as they can bring some wonderful affordances for learning environments. What concerns me is that the integrating technology discourse among administrators has great attention to the “what” with often absent or limited interest in the “why.” Without asking why questions, we lose opportunity to attend to organizational mission, vision, and core values.

Either we need to add new and powerful “why” words to the integrating technology discourse, or we need to start a new discourse altogether. Some might point to the digital media and learning movement as one attempt at a new and more substantive discourse, and I do see great potential in it. Time will tell if it finds dominance. For now, let me offer a little more commentary to the existing “integrating technology” discourse that continues to lead the way in many learning organizations.

First, let us consider the simplicity and even absurdity of the question, “How can we integrate more technology in our school or classrooms?” What other community or organization is driven by such a question? Can you imagine the coach of a football team setting the goal of integrating more technology into the team? Or, what about a couple, concerned about their relationship, deciding that the integration of communication technology is the most important remedy? These examples point to the simple goal of adding more technology lacks the ability to get at the things that we most value, unless technology in and of itself is the value. At the same time, consider the medical field. None of us would want a doctor who refused to use current and modern medical technology. In fact, in some instances, to do that might even be a form of malpractice. To use the best tool for the task is important. Now that is a much more helpful question. Given time, resources, and other important factors, what is the best tool for this task? That is an integrating technology question that gets at mission, vision, and especially values. This is the type of question that I contend needs to be commonplace when discussing educational technology.

Here are eight questions that have often led me to more mission, vision, and value-driven technology integrations.

  1. How can I/we improve student learning in this lesson, unit, class, or across the organization?
  2. How can I/we increase learner engagement in this training, lesson, unit, or organization?
  3. How can I/we increase long term retention of key concepts in this training, unit, or lesson?
  4. How can I/we increase educational access and opportunity in this learning organization?
  5. How can I/we meet the education and training needs of a diverse and dispersed group of employees or learning organization members?
  6. How can I/we provide a learning experience that adapts to the distinct or even unique situation of each learner (prior knowledge, existing strengths and limitations, their current demands beyond the classroom, their level of confidence, etc.)?
  7. How can I/we create a learning organization that moves beyond the mass production model to a mass customization (still scalable, but not expecting that everyone should get the same treatment)?
  8. How can I/we best equip learners for the nature of life and learning in an increasingly digital world?

I suspect that these are the types of questions that will help us move beyond the current integrating technology discourse to conversations that can help us more fully embody the distinct missions, visions, and core values of our learning organizations.

Top 10 Etale Articles in 2014

top10Over the last couple of years, I’ve created a summary post at the end of the year, highlighting those articles that capture the imagination and interest of the most readers. So, staying the course with this tradition, following are the 10 most visited Etale articles in 2014.

5 Common Reasons for the Importance of Letter Grades

First published in April of 2013 as part of my MOOC on Learning Beyond Letter grades, this article highlights common arguments for the value of letter grades, but also includes some challenges or limitations to those arguments.

50+ Education Documentaries to Challenge and Inspire

I’m a longstanding devotee of documentaries of all kinds, but in 2014 I decided to focus my exploration of education documentaries and I was amazed at what I found, over 50 wonderfully thought-provoking and substantive explorations of everything race and education to unschooling, education around the world, textbook bias, the higher education crisis and the digital revolution. So, why not share my exploration with the world by putting together a list of them. This is one of those posts that I intend to update every few months.

A Primer on 3 “gogies”

I didn’t expect this one to capture so many people’s interest, but it certainly did. It simply explains the difference between pedagogy, heutagogy, and andragogy. Then I end by adding five more “gogies” to the list.

10 Uses of MOOCs for High School Students

This one also comes from 2013. I explain many of the emerging and creative ways that high schools and high school students and making use of MOOCs. These practices have only expanded since I first wrote it.

8 Simple Ideas for Helping Students Become Self-Directed Learners This Year

Yet another 2013 article, this one gives simple and practical ideas for promoting self-directed learning.

Templates for Self-Directed Learning Projects

Similarly practical, I had many people contacting me about how to get started with encouraging students to work on SDL projects. So, based upon some of the more popular approaches, I created five Google Doc templates to serve as a guide.

Infographic on Building a Personal Teaching Network

Many know of a PLN, but I took a twist on it and created this visual to show how people can started to build opportunities to teach, mentor and consult using various social media and emerging digital practices. This one is also the most pinned on Pinterest and the most retweeted on Twitter. By the way, if the idea of building a personal teaching network interests you, look for more on this topic in 2015. You might even hear an announcement about a new educational entrepreneurship initiative that I have in the words for this coming year. If it works out, this might just be another first of its kinds.

10 Educational Change Metaphors

As I speak and consult for learning organizations, it is common for people to ask tips on how to start a conversation about the need for change and innovation in their schools. The answer really depends on the context, but this article was meant to offer a few metaphors and ways of talking about the need for responding to the changes around us.

5 Types of Educational Technology Experts

Ever since I wrote this back in 2009, it has been in the top ten most visited pages on my blog each year. My guess is that it probably has to do with a common search term “types of educational technology.” However, that is really not the focus. It is a playful look at the different quirks that you will find among people drawn to educational technology.

How Will Badges and Micro-Credentialing Change Education?

Micro-credentials make up the the topic about which I wrote the most in 2014, and this article caught the attention of quite a few people. In it I speculate about the possible influence of this movement that continues to gain traction. Looking back at the article, I still stand by every prediction. Some have already started to emerge, but others will still take a few more years (maybe more) before that are more broadly recognized.

There you have it. These are the ten most visited articles on my blog in 2014. As I reflect on my work and writing over the last year, I am truly grateful for the time and interest that so many of you have in my work. Writing and exploring the possibilities of life and learning in the digital age are two of my great passions, and I’m honored to share these passions with each reader. When I first committed to writing consistently in 2013, I never imagined the reach that it would have and the amazing connections that I would build with brilliant people and fascinating organizations around the world. It is my hope that 2015 will only extend and deepen those connections. Thank you for being part of my personal learning and teaching network in 2014.