Future Of Universities At The Onslaught Of Online Learning

Under the umbrella of The World Economic Forum senior university administrators, faculty staff and entrepreneurs in online education and university ventures gathered to discuss online learning and everyone was talking about this “tsunami”, which may have sort of  “tsunami” like impact on higher education as the Internet has had on printed newspapers.

What future universities will look like as a whole, was the most debatable issue among the participants, who strongly agreed that education is broader than content.  Though some concerns were raised about the loss of  physical intimacy and intellectual proximity of  a real-world campus in the virtual space. But there was an unanimity among the participants about the inevitability of blend of offline and online education.

Online is already an accepted norm

With the changing expectation of students’, the digital world has become a reality. For this generation, teaching and interaction within the online space is as natural as offline. Evidence suggests that rates of placement, retention and academic performance are just as good online as offline. Online degrees are now well-tested and proven.

Online facilitates easier peer-to-peer feedback among students, something they value highly. It also helps students continue learning when they are not together. And many of the new online degrees offer students the possibility of completing high-quality programmes that are as good as the ones on campus, without the need to quit their jobs and move to new locations.

More fundamentally, the reach of online education multiplies students around the world. That suggests a market with incredible potential in which the best ideas will increasingly find support and funds. This is relevant not only to students, but also to university faculties, which can engage well with the online space, provided they are given the right incentives. In short, online can help a faculty extend its reach, build brand awareness and attract more fee-paying students.

Online learning brings the student back to centre stage, as a customer looking to derive value from a university through an excellent online user-experience. This has profound implications for higher educational institutions and their value propositions. Since globalization would force each university to spell out its unique appeal, whether that is the city in which it is based or an industry with which it is associated. This presents a unique opportunity for universities to identify with their cities, and vice versa.

Universities who embrace the change and put education and the student at the top of their agenda and capitalize on their real-world reputations to leverage their online offerings will prosper. Those who don’t will struggle.

Elite universities are well positioned to thrive as one participant forecast a potentially polarized higher education system, with “Tiffany-on-Fifth-Avenue” universities at one end of the scale, and “Wal-Mart-type” universities at the other, both successfully serving their customer bases, with the ones in the middle struggling to survive.

As more students are getting married, one thing that will surely happen is that online education will act as a kind of intellectual dating agency.

Adapted from “What will the university of the future look like?”. To read, click here.

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