How the Future of Higher Education Affects Businesses

Higher education is going to look much different in the future, with a greater reliance on teleconferencing and distance learning, according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Sixty percent of the 1,021 respondents, which included a variety of technology experts, education professionals, and venture capitalists, agree that hybrid learning, which combines online education with in-class instruction, and "individualized, just-in-time learning approaches" will be much more common by the year 2020.

"[T]echnology will allow for more individualized, passion-based learning by the student, greater access to master teaching, and more opportunities for students to connect to others ? for enhanced learning experiences," wrote Charlie Firestone, executive director of the Communications and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, whose comments as a survey respondent were included in the report.

One major factor that will drive technological innovation in higher education over the next decade, according to survey respondents, is the steep cost of higher education. According to data provided by 1,009 colleges and universities to U.S. News, college graduates completed their degrees in 2010 with an average loan burden of $24,962, and nationwide, the student loan debt has passed $1 trillion.

[Find out if the Student Loan Forgiveness Act would help you.]

"The high and growing cost of university education cannot be sustained, particularly in the light of the growing global demand for such education," wrote Donald Barnes, a visiting professor at Guangxi University in China. "Therefore, there is already a rush to utilize the new medium of the Internet as a means of delivering higher education experience and products in more economical and efficient modes."

Some universities have approached this issue by making some of their courses more accessible to students who may not have the resources or ability to consume the content otherwise. Institutions such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have long offered select courses for free online, and services such as Coursera and Udacity offer myriad online courses from top ranked universities ranging in subjects from computer science to medicine at no cost to the user.

[Explore options for free online education programs.]

While fully online courses are effective in reaching larger audiences, studies have shown that hybrid learning may be the most effective way to learn. Marti Hearst, a professor at the University of California--Berkeley, noted in the survey that "having students watch the video lecture or read the material at home and then work on problems ? together in the classroom with other students and a teacher is a powerful model."

While higher education professionals consider the most effective tools for the future of their field, the corporate world is also at a crossroads in how it educates its employees, says Winston Binch, a partner and chief digital officer at advertising agency Deutsch LA.

"It's not just the colleges and universities that need to adapt and have more of a modern approach to their educating," Binch notes. "It's also the businesses themselves that need to get more aggressive in how they're educating their employees."

[See how students have used college to build start-ups.]

Binch says there have been ongoing discussions at Deutsch about how to use digital tools to "educate our employees from the day that they walk in." He acknowledges, though, that one of the biggest challenges his company has faced is how to incorporate education into the agency.

For academia and industry alike, the greatest challenge may actually be in creating lifelong learners out of students and professionals. With a rapidly changing marketplace, "the real need for education in the economy will be re-education," wrote Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

"As industries go through disruption and jobs are lost forever, people will need to be retrained for new roles," Jarvis noted. "Our present educational structure is not built for that, but in that I see great entrepreneurial opportunity."

[Discover companies hiring grads from you school.]

This opportunity is possible if there is communication and collaboration between educational institutions and corporations, notes David Slayden, the executive director of Boulder Digital Works at the University of Colorado--Boulder.

"Industry [leaders] realize that they need to really establish and maintain a learning culture within their companies to retain talent and attract talent," Slayden says. "But it needs to be a partnership between industry and academia, not an assembly line."

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