Whilst at the recent Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference in Sydney, I attended the Education Leaders Forum, which included an interesting and challenging workshop on possible future scenarios for Higher Education.

This workshop was presented by Maria Spies of HolonIQ, and I am careful not to discuss anything here that is not publicly available on their website. Of course these are only possible futures, but I was impressed by the degree to which these scenarios were data and research-informed and were essentially extrapolations of recent trends.

The full report on this webpage shows each of the five scenarios with respect to sliding scales of change relating to the following aspects of influence and impact:

  1. Balance of Power (eg Government vs Market, Local vs Global, Institution vs Individual, etc)
  2. Economics of Education (eg Government Investment vs Private Spend, Elite vs Mass Access, Public Benefit vs Private Good, etc)
  3. Learning model (eg Theoretical vs Practical, On-campus vs online, Instructor-led vs Self-paced, etc)
  4. Role of Technology (eg Following vs Leading, Computational Power vs Intelligence Power, Digital Borders vs Borderless Data, etc)

The five possible scenarios have been labelled and described as follows:

  1. Education-as-Usual – in most advanced educational areas, government-funded institutions remain the most credible and trusted vehicles for gaining education, jobs and prosperity. Research and technology evolve in the traditional way, with a combination of public-private research partnerships;
  2. Regional Rising – regional partnerships and consortia develop to enhance the educational opportunities that are contextualised for local/regional expectations. Local talent hubs develop to strengthen the prosperity of regional communities and economies (personal note – I can see this being a possible future scenario in which NZ helps to bolster the prosperity of Pacific nations);
  3. Global Giants – this is probably largely self-explanatory. Current global giants would include the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple, LinkedIn, etc, but of course over the next ten years there would undoubtedly be other giants emerging, in particular from Asia. These commercial enterprises will deliver their own (probably very employability-focussed) education delivery platforms;
  4. Peer to Peer – essentially this scenarios cuts institutions out of the picture and directly connects learners with educators. This scenario probably involves the use of technologies (such as Blockchain) to record and authenticate student achievement, and implies the further develop of micro-credentials;
  5. Robo Revolution – machine learning and artificial intelligence become more influential and controlling in the learning process, with virtual tutors providing instant feedback and individualised/focussed learning pathways for learners that lead more directly to the required outcomes.

What do you think are the possible futures for higher education in ten years time? Are there other scenarios that are significantly different to these, or perhaps a mix-and-match of all of these?

One thing is absolutely for sure – change is inevitable and very rapid, and the current business model for higher education will be under threat of change in the very near future. Think back to how technology has changed over the past ten years (the first iPhone was only released 12 years ago), despite our best efforts to analyse the current trends we still may struggle to accurately predict the next ten years.

-Mark Northover