Few would doubt that we live in the times of the great change in the sphere of education in general and higher education in particular; what it is going to be like after it emerges from this paradigm shift is another matter. Nevertheless, even now we can make an educated guess based on the changes happening over the last few years.
Undoubtedly, online education is the primary game changer right now. Educators may like it or not, but online education is here to stay. Already a number of top universities offer the same degrees to those who study remotely; there may still be some bias against these programs, but it will have to go. Students are going to vote with their money and preference, and they will choose what is more convenient for them.
Just like in any other area of human activity, those institutions that stick to the past and try to maintain an outdated paradigm that inseparably connect higher education with the idea of 3 or 4 years spent in a brick-and-mortar college listening to lectures and attending seminars are going to lose the race for students’ preference and wallets. In the long run, every college that wishes to stay in business is going to accept and embrace the new paradigm to the fullest – it is just a matter of time.
Already about 75% of college students have one or more “nontraditional characteristic” (e.g., attend school part-time, are employed full-time, have dependents, are independent from their parents financially etc.), and these people are going to be in the vanguard of change. They can hardly be content with traditional arrangements – they cannot afford to spend several years in a row studying full-time.
How is higher education going to change in the near future? It is always an ungrateful task to predict, but we can judge from the existing tendencies.
Traditional college education is going to be transformed by the introduction of new technology and the changes in basic principles. Blended learning, student-centered education, flipped classrooms, community-based learning – all these things are already here, but they are likely to get more and more prominent as time goes on.
Education is likely to get separated from the idea of being attached to a particular period of life. With the world around us changing at breakneck speed, people need new skills much more often than they used to – which means that education is likely to become a lifelong process, not limited to school and college.
Unbundling of education means that degrees are likely to get less concrete. Students will get an opportunity to construct their degrees according to their own choices, using a number of building blocks: courses, MOOCs, exams and suchlike. The abundance of high-quality content on the Internet today means that colleges are no longer the primary source of information and education, and as a result we are going to see a much greater accent on certifying the existing knowledge a student got elsewhere.
All in all, the Internet gives students an unprecedented amount of freedom – and one can only imagine what they can do with it.