Tuesday, November 2, 2010

One Year On

This blog is a year old today. Thank you all for reading and passing links on. Particular thanks to those who took the time to comment, most notably those who disagreed with me. Dialogue is a far better learning mechanism than monologue.

I've covered a fair bit of ground over the year, although only a fraction of the topic has been addressed. As I hoped for, the act of writing things down has advanced and clarified my thinking on the subject considerably. It's helped to illuminate how little I know, on one hand, but also built my hunches of a year ago into better supported viewpoints.

A year ago I felt, like many, that some kind of revolution in tertiary education was just around the corner. Now I know it isn't, at least not exactly. In truth, Higher education is about halfway through a century long revolution. The four megatrends I identified early on in this blog aren't things that sit in the future, they are trends that really began in the early to mid 20th century. We are now halfway up an S curve on each of them. The revolution in higher education won't begin in 2010, or 2015. It really began sometime around 1925, and in some places will be complete by 2025. As William Gibson famously remarked, the future is already here, it just isn't evenly distributed. It will take until 2100 for that new model of higher education, the shape of which is already clear, to become global, by which time higher education will be almost universal almost everywhere.

Humans, of course, have difficulty in observing change on this scale. We are peculiarly blind to it. It doesn't help that the new models of higher education are already here, in disguise. Modularisation, lifelong learning, Open universities, distance learning and recognition of prior learning and so on have steadily crept into the mainstream in the last generation. The OU is the largest University in Europe. The Indira Gandhi Open University in India is the largest on earth. For profit entities like the Apollo group, owners of the University of Phoenix, among others, teach millions of students in the developed and increasingly the developing worlds. All use technology enthusiastically and largely eschew the traditional medieval models of the 'Universities of Place' and the paleo-pedagogy of the lecture. The distance and blended learning models they adapt are leaking back into the conventional university sector, almost imperceptibly dissolving the concept of Universities as being fixed in space and time.

Ironically, the very inefficientcy of old fashioned Universities will preserve the greatest of them. In a world where everyone can access cheap distance based higher education (because distance means nothing), the old fashioned, inefficient model where everyone travels to the same place and time becomes a luxury good. Like an expensive golf club, the very fact that it is expensive and filters for the rich and the clever will sustain it's appeal. While technology will bring affordable mass tertiary education to the world, they will all still yearn for access to the gilded rooms of the Global Ivy League, which will remain, for many, the surest gateway to membership of the global elite.

I have at least 20 years before my lastborn receives her primary degree, so this blog has a long way to run. If you'll permit me a moment of levity in the face of such a road, in my next post, I'm going to tell you a joke...

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