The higher education system in the United States has come under a lot of stress in recent years. Record levels of student loan debt, spiraling education costs, and the burden of excessive regulation are all contributing factors. Students and parents alike are facing difficulty choosing a path towards a degree. Further, there are forces both in the government and the marketplace that are demanding essential changes to the traditional classroom lecture format. Right now, it’s safe to say the future of college is uncertain.
In this article, we’ll provide a brief overview of technological and policy developments in higher education and how they factor into the future of online education. It’s clear that online education will play a big role in the future. The question is, what form will it take?
What Does the Future of Higher Ed Hold?
In the age of the Internet and skyrocketing tuition costs, the future of higher education is unclear. Despite that uncertainty, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Here are a few examples:
New Teaching Methods and Strategies
Online learning and changes in pedagogical techniques will certainly occur. The traditional teacher-lecture format is already facing withering criticism, and parents are demanding more student-teacher interaction, less rote memorization, and uses of the latest techniques in teaching. In the future, learning will certainly look and feel different.
More Affordable Learning
The value of a degree versus trade school certifications will be put to the test. As online means of teaching medical, construction, and service trades become more common, students and parents may question whether or not attending a liberal arts college is worth the return on investment. As the future of online learning begins to take shape, full-stack coding schools and other online methods of gaining job skills will begin to emerge as viable alternatives.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
The MOOC phenomenon is not going away and will be integrated into online instruction. A debate is already arising about institutions that demand that students use MOOCs for basic instruction, transferring responsibility for resources and instruction onto the MOOC. Other MOOCs are now copyrighting their material while still making access free for students. MOOC concepts will also be used to educate virtual student bodies in their entirety.
Increased College Accessibility
Many argue that the future of college education should be free and treated as a universal public good. In the US, there are several active programs designed to relieve student loan debt and make higher education more accessible. However, in recent years, government intervention in higher ed has become a contentious political issue.
How Will Technology Impact the Future of Higher Education?
Another change that is rippling through the higher education ecosystem is the disappearance of the traditional college campus. Instruction only accounts for part of the value of a university education. The social connections and career opportunities that are born out of the college experience are equally important. Since these are by their nature vague, there are voices who call for judging education on a purely return-on-investment basis. How this will impact the future of learning remains to be seen.
There has been a recent surge in EdTech startups seeking to do away with tenured professors and provide deep instruction in various specialties and experimental pedagogical approaches. More skill and craft-based instruction efforts are also arising. The convergence of technology and online learning will create new opportunities for those who seek to begin or further their education.
The Benefits of Virtual Education
From a practical standpoint, there are some huge advantages that students and their families can experience right now by tapping into online education. Here are a few key benefits:
Location Independent Education
Virtual education can be done anywhere. Depending on the degree and institution, the foundational work could be done with a laptop at home. Intermediate and advanced work can be done in the usual labs for science specialties, but this can save a family two to three years of residency costs that take place at a traditional university. The standard for future universities could be 75% to 100% remote learning.
More Effective Professors
Virtual instructors will be better educated on how to use online education platforms to provide superior learning experiences. The value of these higher ed platforms will continue to increase as professors gain experience using them.
More Flexible Universities
In the future, institutions that transition to virtual learning will be able to free themselves from onerous capital maintenance. Dorms and classrooms can be sold off and the proceeds can be used on IT infrastructure, research grants, expanded course offerings, and hiring more instructors.
Hybrid Learning Environments
Face-to-face instruction won’t completely disappear because certain students and instructors will prefer the classic lecture model. As a result, universities may adopt a hybrid model. There are certain things about the college experience that can’t be replicated on the Internet. However, virtual instruction will force brick and mortar colleges to become more competitive. Virtual education is disruptive to the standard education model and will force traditional institutions to change.