Anderson, J., Boyles, J., and Rainie, L. (2012) The Future Impact of the Internet on Higher Education Washington DC: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project
This is a Delphi-style study where over 1,000 ‘experts’ in the USA were asked to choose one of two possible scenarios that describe the likely impact of the Internet on the higher education system, and then provide comments or a rationale for their choice (see the full report for more details on the methodology).
39% agreed with a scenario that articulated modest change by the end of the decade:
In 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today. While people will be accessing more resources in classrooms through the use of large screens, teleconferencing, and personal wireless smart devices, most universities will mostly require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures. Most universities’ assessment of learning and their requirements for graduation will be about the same as they are now.
60% agreed with a scenario outlining more change:
By 2020, higher education will be quite different from the way it is today. There will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources. Significant numbers of learning activities will move to individualized, just-in-time learning approaches. There will be a transition to “hybrid” classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings. Most universities’ assessment of learning will take into account more individually-oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery. Requirements for graduation will be significantly shifted to customized outcomes.
The Pew researchers grouped the arguments that participants used to justify their choice under the following themes:
- Higher education will vigorously adopt new teaching approaches, propelled by opportunity and efficiency as well as student and parent demands.
- Economic realities will drive technological innovation forward by 2020, creating less uniformity in higher education.
- “Distance learning” is a divisive issue. It is viewed with disdain by many who don’t see it as effective; others anticipate great advances in knowledge-sharing tools by 2020.
- ‘Bricks’ replaced by ‘clicks’? Some say universities’ influence could be altered as new technology options emerge; others say ‘locatedness’ is still vital for an optimal outcome.
- Frustration and doubt mark the prospect of change within the academy. Change is happening incrementally, but these adjustments will not be universal in most institutions by 2020.
- Universities will adopt new pedagogical approaches while retaining the core of traditional methods.
- Collaborative education with peer-to-peer learning will become a bigger reality and will challenge the lecture format and focus on “learning how to learn.”
- Competency credentialing and certification are likely……yet institutional barriers may prevent widespread degree customization.
This provides an excellent overview of the current thinking about the future of higher education in North America, at least.
I did not participate in the study but I would have been in the 60% who would have voted for the second scenario, but with one caveat: 2020 is too soon, mainly because of theme (5) above. However, I do believe that this is the direction public higher education will go, indeed will have to go.
There was a third scenario that was not discussed in the study, and I believe should have been:
The publicly funded higher education system as we know it will no longer exist in the USA. Elite universities funded mainly through endowments, corporate donations, and very high tuition fees will provide a campus-based education for the very rich and powerful. The majority of government funded research will be allocated to these elite institutions, which will also provide non-credit online free education for the masses. Three or four large for-profit institutions will provide low-cost, tuition-funded medium quality degrees and vocational diplomas using a combination of class-based and online learning, frequently enabling students to transfer in credit from their non-credit certificates from the elite institutions. These for-profit institutions will provide the vast majority of post-secondary education in the USA, helped by Federal and state student grants that require rigorous quality standards from qualifying for-profits. Many states will have either no or at most one of two large, publicly funded research universities. Meanwhile, the USA continues with an accelerated economic and social decline.
Although this last scenario is in my view less likely than the second, I believe that it has a similar if not greater probability than the first scenario, and needs to be treated as a serious threat to the USA’s public post-secondary education system. If my third scenario prevails, it will be because of theme (5) above. Faculty will have only themselves (and the Tea Party) to blame.
Meanwhile, thanks to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project for a very interesting and thought-provoking study.
Your comments, please
How do these scenarios match your view of the future of higher education? Is there one you like but would amend?
Do you have a fourth scenario?
Will it be different in Canada or other countries? Or is the USA unique?
Is this kind of study useful? Or does it just further add to the hype and hysteria around online learning?