Three Predictions for the Future of Education

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As tech, culture, and the economy rapidly transform, how will institutions of higher education change to meet new needs and address new realities?

In the past decades, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the world of education. Some have been great and accompanied by excitement, like the increasing availability of higher education for more people through online universities and courses. Others have been more troublesome and accompanied by worry, like rising tuition costs. It’s only natural to ask what will come next. Here are three predictions of what the future of education might look like:


1. The Future of Distance Learning


The future of education will not only see greater demand for online learning opportunities but a transformation in how classroom learning takes place as well.
Online universities have always been met with some skepticism by traditionalists, who think that education should take place in a brick and mortar institution. But the benefits provided by online universities are undeniable – including lower costs (some even being tuition-free) and the ability to study from any location while maintaining a separate work and family life. Because of these benefits, online universities have become more common, more respected, and have raised the bar in terms of quality.


According to a study of young people around the globe, 80% of responders reported taking at least one course online. If this trend continues, the future will see more and more education entering the online realm. This doesn’t mean that brick-and-mortar education will be erased. What it could mean, however, is that more and more high-quality online universities will appear, and more traditional universities will make use of mixed courses (combining online and in-the-classroom techniques).


It could also mean that the nature of in-the-classroom learning will change in response to online learning. As we have already seen in elementary schools, there is a trend towards “flipped” classrooms. In a flipped classroom, the instructional element is completed online at home while independent practice takes place in the classroom, where a teacher provides guidance. This is indeed a total flip of business as usual, where the teacher presents material frontally in the classroom, and students work to put it to practice at home.


2. A Free Education for All


Is the future of education a free education for all? Some think things are moving this way. While the democratizing of education may seem like a dream, it may not actually be so far off. European countries are leading the way in terms of providing free college educations to their citizens (and often to any resident). In addition to this, online universities, like University of the People, are offering degrees to students all over the world tuition-free. If this keeps up, the for-pay model of education may dwindle as free and low-cost alternatives proliferate.


The New York State Excelsior Scholarship Program is the first attempt of a U.S. state to provide a tuition-free college education to its residents. I would imagine that in the coming decade we will see more programs like that. Students and parents across the country are becoming more and more aware of the pitfalls of student loan debt, making these tuition-free options more coveted and necessary than ever before. And as the importance of a college degree soars, it may soon be necessary for all states to guarantee a tuition-free education for their residents.


3. A Change of Course


Will the future of education be a return to liberal arts? There’s no doubt that with the passing of time, trends related to what students study will also transform. According to celebrity investor Marc Cuban, a return to liberal arts will be the dominant trend, saying in an interview with Business Insider, “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data.”


Others see it a bit differently, predicting not the return of liberal arts as such, but an increase in the demand for cross-disciplinary learning. According to an article on “Fast Company,” the economy of tomorrow will require creative students trained in “science, engineering, and technology.”


This too will be affected by the prevalence of online learning. The article on “Fast Company” envisions more shared academic/entrepreneurial spaces where individuals engaged in their own online coursework can meet in person and come together for academic or business-focused collaboration. No matter what the change is exactly, it’s clear that as our economy changes, not only how we study, but what we study will need to change with it.