Future of Education: Life Coach or Instruction?


Simpsons-upside-downLast month, we had an interesting two-day innovation session with a group of universities talking about the future of education. These are interesting times for universities, with concepts such as ‘Flipping the Classroom’ and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) challenging the traditional classroom-based teaching. Today, universities are somewhat protected from startups and other challengers, because they still have a monopoly on handing out college degrees, which are essential for entry into the job-market. But, what if that advantage were to disappear? What if some kind of online diploma becomes MORE valuable than a college degree? (Scary thought for some universities, I’m sure).

As with many industries facing disruption, the question is about what core value you can still provide. It’s not pure ‘content’… that much is clear. Then, is it access to great minds? Is it the social experience of people in your same age-range? Is it in practicing independence as an adult? Or, should it be something new? Something that is currently not a strong part of a university, but could become the new core value?

In parallel, I’m also intrigued in the concept of life-long-learning: the idea that learning is an ongoing part of everybody’s life. Why do we need three or four years of learning and then switch to a different model? This becomes, especially, clear because, now, technology brings access to knowledge and instruction right into the workplace. Doing and learning intermixed – Social Learning, on-the-job learning, etc.

So, what could be the university of the future? I feel universities, with their expert knowledge of how learning works, should pivot (ha! startup-terminology for hundred-year old institutions!) on the coaching/guiding role: sign up here for a life-long personal career coach! At first, the interactions would be focused on discovering yourself, honing some communication skills, understanding some basics, but then as quickly as possible, entering work life. And that’s where the added value of a university ‘new style’ really lies: as job loyalty is down and people are jumping from place to place, your employer can no longer be expected to be your job-coach; but, millennials are desperately looking for coaching. Here is an opportunity for universities to step in with authority, and be the lifelong career (and development) coach! And, why sign up at 18? Why not at 16 or 12?  Perhaps in a decade, we can start seeing on resumes of new jobseekers ‘Member of the University for Life’?

(Btw: Anyone interested in a free-roaming discussion about this, feel free to contact me, as I have more unbaked thoughts around this that may either be interesting or need to be set straight.)

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