The Future of Education - Pt II

In a few weeks, the holidays will be over and students will start to go - or rather Zoom - to school again. As education will only become more important...

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August 6, 2020
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Is China becoming the world’s leader in online education?, by Pascal Coppens, China keynote speaker, author and Partner at nexxworks

China’s education industry is the largest in the world with 500,000 schools, 260 million students and 8 million yearly university graduates. Their education system is also the oldest in the world. For 2000 years, this meritocratic society has been obsessed with a traditional education approach of test scores, measuring, efficiency, standardization and centralization of education. Western educators regard our teacher-guidance schooling to be better suited for critical and creative thinking than China’s parent-led result driven educational system. But in the age of Artificial Intelligence, China offers the best environment to train algorithms with an enormous amount of reliable, comparable data. Unsurprisingly, China’s AI EdTech industry has boomed in recent years. With 900 million smartphone users, 300 million active EdTech users, China’s Education business has emerged as one of the few growth industries when schools remained closed during the crisis. From home tutoring apps, AI test-correctors for teachers to student coding platforms, every tech company in China is competing fiercely for China’s 54 billion USD EdTech (2020) market. As for China’s central government, instead of building and managing an educational platform, they deploy commercial platforms like Alibaba’s DingTalk to modernize their education system and accelerate innovation of the whole industry.

The pandemic has forced all schools in the world to rethink technology in education as well as the role of educators; but it also unveiled societal challenges such as inequalities and the role of parents versus teachers. The effective handling of the crisis in China has revealed a strong collective mindset, as well as great aptitude of Chinese families to adopt the new normal of online learning. In China, parents would never compromise on the education of their children, not even in a crisis. Chinese people and the government value education as the main engine to improve the destiny of a person and the country. Despite the crisis, the fastest growth in EdTech now comes from third and fourth tier Chinese cities, whereas the government supports the remote and poor areas to access online education. At home, the living-in grandparents, help their grandchild with online homework and classes. The strong social fabric in China has made the transition from traditional to online education a natural process, with much less resistance and learning deficits as we witnessed often in the West. Can the future of education with new online methods be successful without reflecting on our social fabric first?

Why we need to teach ‘Thinking about thinking’, by Jean Paul Van Bendegem, Professor emeritus at the Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science at the VUB

First assumption: the world has become an interconnected whole. Not only are economies worldwide linked together in all sorts of ways but so are our worldviews as well. The internet allows me to reach the far corners of the earth and perhaps the universe too. All has become accessible to all (or nearly so) and we seem to have the idea that we control it all as well. But both the corona crisis and climate change have made it clear that a global world confronts us with global problems

Second assumption: global problems need to be solved. Solutions to such problems are themselves global. But both problems and solutions on that scale are very often, if not nearly always, complex, intricate, counter-intuitive and hard to explain. However, as human beings who are products of evolutionary processes, we are not accustomed (or adapted) to such forms of thinking and reasoning. Finding one’s way in a rather limited environment was what was needed for survival. Not so today.

First conclusion: put the two assumptions together and the conclusion seems to follow that, first, we need to develop such new forms of thinking and reasoning and, secondly, we need to teach them. The former is a matter of research and this need not be discussed here but the latter is the core of the matter. Since we cannot assume that humans are equipped from birth with such reasoning tools, they have to be instructed. Here, as one might expect, things become complicated. What kind of instruction do they need?

Third assumption: global problems and their solutions require global participation. This is a ‘strong’ claim, let there be no doubt. It implies a particular form of societal organisation where each and every member can join in the decision making. This is not a necessity. One is hereby invited to ‘experiment’ with other assumptions. But what follows from the one proposed here?

Second and final conclusion: in general terms, instruction will need to inform citizens but without the necessity that they become specialists themselves. What is needed is the development of insights into (the art of) reasoning, the ways debates, discussions, decision processes … are conducted and performed, so that the quality of an argument or a decision can be evaluated. What we therefore need can be summarized in one bold statement: we need more thinking about thinking.

Evolution, Devolution, or Revolution: What is the Future of Higher Education?, by Marie A. Cini, Ph.D., Chief Strategy Officer at

When COVID hit, quickly followed by renewed demands for a more just and equitable society, the pressure for change in higher education accelerated.

Given that context, asking how Higher Education will “evolve” is the wrong question. Evolution assumes inevitable change along a single trajectory. It also implies that change will occur separate from human decision-making. Neither is true about higher education in the future.

Instead, higher education is set to do all three: undergo a revolution in some ways, evolve in other ways, and devolve in ways as well. The many branches of higher education (e.g., community colleges, public institutions, elite privates) will move in different directions and at different paces depending on the type of institution, the type of student each serves, and the governance structure(s) each adheres to. And new forms of higher learning will appear.

John Boudreau, a work futurist, wrote in a March 17, 2016 article, that future work will be driven by five fundamental forces:

  • Social and organizational reconfiguration
  • A global talent market
  • A truly connected world
  • Exponential technology change
  • Human-automation collaboration

Boudreau then posits four types of work in the future: a current state (much like today), work reimagined (humans work in more of a project-based gig economy but with today’s technology), today but turbocharged (full-time employment like today but using new technologies like AI), or uber empowered work (projects, virtual, gig economy using powerful technologies like AI).

And ponder this: any organization may have two or more of these types of work at any given time over the next ten years. We may be involved in one or more of these types of work either sequentially or even at the same time. One of our most important skill sets will be the ability to navigate these various types of work.

This framework informs the knowledge and skills higher education must prepare learners with, as well as provides a model that higher education will likely follow. After all, the five fundamental forces will also drive changes in higher education and likely in similar ways.

Some institutions of higher education (IHEs) will follow a current state learning model. The “current state” IHE you see today will be about the same in 10 years, if it still exists.

Some IHEs will create a college re-imagined and some have done so already. College Unbound in Rhode Island, an innovative program using new learning methods but with today’s technology, is one example.

Some IHEs will create a turbocharged college using today’s learning models but with tomorrow’s technology. For example, an online institution may choose to harness the power of AI to help faculty and students learn more deeply in online discussions and to help students write more effectively.

Finally, some colleges and frankly, some new types of learning providers, will create the uber empowered learning organization. This will be powered by a learning platform that allows an individual to amass learning throughout longer lives along a more winding career path. Learning will include cognitive skills, but equally important--interpersonal and social skills, as well as affective skills.

Ethics and sense-making will become more important as the world becomes a more complex and challenging place. Learners will learn everywhere and all the time; digital, real-time assessments will allow them to collect learning episodes continuously. Learning will be both digital and experiential.

Which of the four forms will “win”? Likely there will be a trend toward the new learning models with newer forms of technology over time, but for a good many years we will be living among a plethora of models all competing for survival.

The Game Has Changed in Higher Education, by Stephen Spinelli Jr., PhD, President, Babson College: Entrepreneur vs. Administrator

“The administration.” In higher education, it’s a catchall phrase for college officials that seldom connotes forward-thinking and innovation. It is a diminutive of leadership.

Administrators are necessary and important managers, but they rarely shape their roles by nimbly anticipating and sharply reacting to a dynamic environment. Administrative skills tend to be a linear sequence. Higher education’s trajectory is anything but linear.

Today, we need leaders. More specifically, entrepreneurial leaders.

Entrepreneurial skills are three dimensional, synthesizing rapidly changing data and making informed (and often imperfect) decisions. The fundamental characteristics of entrepreneurial leaders – agile, solutions-oriented, innovative, nimble, opportunity-obsessed – are more relevant and necessary than ever before, particularly in higher education.

The last decade, marked by rising costs, stagnant high school graduation rates, increased competition, and a value proposition under pressure, has rendered the current higher education business model untenable. As an industry, we have not kept pace with the highly networked society that has emerged from the rapid and ongoing transformations taking place in every other sector.

Technology has fundamentally altered the way learning is consumed, and competition is increasing in many forms. Online education offerings provide students flexible degree options. Businesses are turning to digital tools to train and educate employees with customized curriculum. YouTube sessions, “badges,” “just in time, just enough, and just for me,” and the flexibility of third-party providers are replacing college classrooms and semester learning.

Colleges and universities must take thoughtful and deliberate steps to reach learners where and how they demand it through technology-amplified offerings, relevant content, and new partner channels.

Despite this disruption – and opportunity – institutions led by administrators, even highly-skilled administrators, are predisposed to maintaining the status quo. It will take entrepreneurial leaders to transform higher education in the manner necessary to survive and thrive. It will require a vision of the future and the discipline to craft that future without a blueprint.

Fortunately, entrepreneurial leadership can be taught and fostered. Through a process of co-creation, Babson College and Arthur Blank, through the Blank Family Foundation, established the Arthur M. Blank School of Entrepreneurial Leadership. As the longstanding leader in entrepreneurship education, we continue to expand our focus on defining, owning, and innovating entrepreneurial leadership and developing new learning models. We’re working to advance and amplify values-driven entrepreneurial leadership on a global scale. It’s one of the reasons why Babson College established the Arthur M. Blank School of Entrepreneurial Leadership in co-creation with the Blank Family Foundation.

Higher education disruption, pandemic, social unrest, economic uncertainty…seems a perfect time for entrepreneurial leaders.

Gauthier Van Malderen, Founder and CEO at Perlego

As universities look ahead to the next academic year with ‘blended’ styles of learning in mind, they will also likely be looking for ways to demonstrate the value for money their institutions offer, at a time where students must be partially detached from their education.

Already, more than 111,000 applicants (1 in 6) have deferred their first year, as they would rather enjoy the full university experience than partake in remote learning and restricted social opportunities.

This is a serious blow to universities across Europe.

The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated significant shortcomings from a digital learning perspective. However, universities can still demonstrate value for those students that will be joining for their first term in September. But it will require a wider review into some of the longer-standing challenges that students face when it comes to the higher education’s teaching structures, rather than simply adopting a few online learning resources.

1. The traditional module system is broken

Many students are often bound to modules they have no interest in, simply because professors, or departmental logistics, deem those units necessary.

Whilst some set modules play an important role in providing an introduction to the key knowledge needed to progress in their chosen course, there should be an allowance for students to develop further through external readings, and to follow their own interests within their subject of study.

Students are currently offered very limited academic freedom once they have been accepted onto their course at university. The focus on two or three compulsory modules limits the breadth of content matter and prohibits students from developing a wider knowledge of their degree subject, that they may have otherwise been fascinated by.

Even before the current pandemic forced restrictions on student learning, the National Student Survey found, in 2019, that 3 in 5 students were dissatisfied with the resources provided by their universities which are necessary to pass modules and obtain a qualification. As institutions are obliged to adopt blended learning, there is a real opportunity to ensure students receive the necessary support required to improve their university experience.

University libraries, despite their intentions, are not built for indulging curiosity. Often they contain limited numbers of the textbooks students require, and demand for these can often mean students have little choice but to purchase them themselves, or search out illegal online versions.

With digital libraries becoming more commonplace, each student should be allocated time to further their own interests, helping to keep them engaged and boost student satisfaction when it is needed most. Digital resources like Perlego, not only offer unlimited access to the textbooks students are required to read, but also thousands of titles covering a variety of topics that students might want to read.

Broadening access to learning resources through tools like this can, in turn, impact students’ academic performance.

Research has shown that students who read more not only achieve higher marks in assessments, but also become more involved in class discussions and develop superior reading and writing comprehension.

By allowing exploration of a variety of different topics, universities will be able to offer students a more comprehensive outlook on the world and can actually better prepare them for future careers.

2. Preparing students for the working world

Most students believe that obtaining a degree will propel them into a career, however, this is often not the case. Although enabling more independent learning will be key to preparing them for the future, much more support is needed.

The Student Employability Index found that, out of 4,000 students at 20 different universities, 79% expect to be employed within six months of graduating. Modern employers, though, sought out professional, versatile individuals with the breadth of knowledge. As a result, government figures show that only 53% of students who have graduated in the past five years are in graduate-level jobs.

Universities can impart this knowledge to students, but many currently don’t.

From teaching specific skills like interview techniques and providing relevant reading materials, to offering 1-2-1 mentoring, now is the time for universities to better support their students by investing more time into the development of those professional skills.

In doing so, we would see a substantial change in graduates’ aptitude and their ability to transition from university to the working world.

3. Digital learning needs to be more than just lectures and reading lists:

Students will, of course, expect universities to continue to provide the same amount of relevant content and experienced lecturing they have become accustomed to in their next term.

There is also an expectation, however, that Universities go above and beyond to think about how a digital experience can deliver the same ‘student experience’ outside of the classroom.

Going into the next academic year, students will be required to form social ‘bubbles’ - likely just those people who will be in their seminar groups and those they are sharing accommodation with.

With limited options for a physical freshers week, society or sports socials and meet-ups, or nights out with new friends, students could be left feeling very isolated. This is a huge concern, especially for incoming students who will be entering a new, unfamiliar world, completely alone.

Staff need to seek out digital platforms which can act as a support network for students.

They should offer online extra-curricular activities to allow students to burst out of the social bubbles and offer online support groups so students do not feel completely isolated from their university and peers.

From offering more flexibility, to providing tailored mentoring, and exploring opportunities that engage students outside of their studies, whilst safely widening their social bubble, universities can (and should) help students feel less negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic going forward.

The rise of online learning can provide globally accessible, boundary-pushing and innovative ways of teaching that will encourage students to become more independent and better prepare them for their futures. Institutions just need to decide if they are going to embrace this. It’s now or never.

Jeroen Franssen, Senior Expert Talent, Labour Market & Labour Organisation at Agoria

The fact that we have built up a fairly strong international image in Belgium in the past with the quality of our education, only provides us with a nice starting point for the 'education of the future' at best. If we think traditions can make us rest on our laurels for the next ten years, then our efforts will have been in vein and our country will miss out on billions of GDP due to a lack of suitably educated people.

The reasons are clear. Every year, the shortage of training personnel in Belgium increases by 7,000 units. Based on the demographics and retirement age, we know that we have to recruit some 17,000 every year. The inflow of new graduates is limited to just under 10,000 a year. In addition, the need for and importance of education and training is intensified by the increasing pace of technological developments and digitization.

In order to meet these quantitative and qualitative challenges, education and business must form a strong symbiosis. A number of proposals for policy and education itself can help in this respect:

  • Make teaching methods more efficient and switch from contact to digital education for at least 25% of the learning time.
  • Require every professional to work 300 days during her or his career as a teacher or trainer who transfers knowledge and experience to students or colleagues.
  • Organize all higher education programmes in a dual manner. In addition to the basic knowledge package guaranteed by education, companies in that model must offer students the latest practices, applied insights and real projects.
  • Deliver diplomas with a maintenance contract and keep the doors open for 'graduates' to keep the basic knowledge relating to a diploma up to date but also to share their first professional experiences in a 'knowledge community'.
  • Give support to companies from the education sector to roll out continuous learning because the educational skills are often lacking in a corporate context. Offer students the opportunity to pitch their newly acquired knowledge on the company floor where workers may not be entirely up to date with the latest insights.
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August 6, 2020
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