Oct 12, 2011

Where Are We Going?

In October and November, ISA will launch the completion of our Ten Trends series as I speak at several regional and national conferences.  The Ten Trends series was birthed three years ago when I witnessed several inflection points in our culture that I believed would naturally impact the work of non-profits, and specificially education.  Over the next two months, I am going to use this space to drive that conversation.
Big question here:  where are we going educationally in America?  We are experiencing industry shifts so rapidly but I am unsure if anyone is really paying attention.  Education is a mature industry – so major shifts are hard to detect and to manage.  But, if one reads the tea leaves, they will quickly come to the conclusion that we are heading into unchartered waters.
So, I am enjoying one of my cross country flights to a client – today from Boston to Seattle – and taking the time to read the Delta inflight magazine.  Interestingly, the main focus of this months magazine is about online learning and the different options available to consumers today.  Most of the case studies feature graduate students in their mid 30’s or 40’s going back to acquire the degree that they wanted, needed, or aspired to and blended learning offered them the opportunity that they never had before.  Of course, these articles are paid for promotional efforts, but I am nevertheless surprised by the distance we have traveled in just a short decade in the blended learning environment.
Where are we going in terms of educational delivery?  I don’t purport to have the answers, but I do think that there are some important questions we need to ask – no, we must ask.  Going back just a decade, we have seen some major shifts in the delivery of education.  When MIT put all content for the MIT open courseware program online, that was a game changer.  Up until that point, the “Academy” owned information and knowledge.  No longer is that true – a student no longer needs to go to school to acquire information and knowledge – it is now ubitquitious.  
Google has an audicious vision – “to organize all the world’s information and do no harm in the process”.  It turns out that they are pretty good at this.  Need an answer to a question on a homework worksheet?  Just Google it and you will likely spare yourself the need to study the textbook.  And, speaking of textbooks, will they become a thing of the past in very short order?  I am guessing that they will go by the wayside quickly, just like newspaper and YellowPages publishing and phonebooths in the airport.
How will educational institutions position themselves in the future?  What value will they add to the consumer and at what price?  I think this is the largest question facing high priced independent schools and colleges in the future.  I don’t know the answers, but I think we are asking the right questions here.  
Read on and feel free to comment.  We’ll continue on this topic throughout the months of October and November.  
PS – This entry was written at 30,000 feet on Delta wi-fi – who would have thought this possible even five years ago?