Someone asked me recently to share some thoughts about higher education trends and futures. I thought these might be useful to others as well.

– University decision-makers have often assumed that technology will have a profound and lasting impact on education. They’ve often been led astray by romanticizing disruptive technologies in other industries (eg., Netflix, Airbnb, Uber, and the list goes on – Uber for education? check. Airbnb for education? check). Honing in on the technology while ignoring the rest of the landscape is problematic. The gig economy surrounding these platforms for example, has also given rise to concerns such as worker stress and surveillance. Honing in on the technology while ignoring the broader issues around it is like thinking that we are going to prevent climate catastrophe by individually recycling plastic bottles. We need to address the broader forces (e.g., social, demographic, economic, etc) that shape access, success, affordability, and so on.

– Some trends impact everyone (e.g., globalization, climate change), but some issues are local, meaning that the solutions proposed in some areas of the world (e.g., USA) may not be solutions to problems faced in other parts of the world (e.g., Mexico, Canada, UK). For example, a young population in some parts of the world translates to higher online learning enrolments, while declining proportion of young people in other parts of the world translates to less demand for higher education.

– Flexibility is key, but it needs resourcing to be successful. Learners value flexibility, and oftentimes need flexibility in order to meet the demands of their lives. This flexibility can come in many forms (e.g., flexible admissions policies and prior learning assessment/recognition; flexible and DIY; or online learning offerings that allow students to complete coursework on their own time). This may have significant impacts across many facets of university life, from course offerings to staffing, and so on. However, for students to be successful and take advantage of flexibility, universities need to support them (e.g., through making supports available at times that students need them; through making accommodations for what varied learners need at different times in their life; through providing varied options for completion, etc).

– Online/distance learning is no longer the poor-cousin of face-to-face learning. It’s a viable alternative. In many instances it is the better alternative , the only alternative, or even expertly integrated into in-person offerrings.

– We should start approaching education, teaching, and learning with greater compassion, kindness, and caring, and still need to work through what this looks like at various levels (e.g., teaching, service, administration, etc).