We have a crisis in Higher Education that is not a recent phenomenon. It has been here quite a while. Pre-COVID19, we in the wealthier parts of the world were satisfied that only 7% of the world’s population has ever been to college, despite a college education being a prerequisite in many advanced parts of the world to economic prosperity. Yes, in time, there may have been mild shared views that accessibility to colleges and universities would increase – and that that would be a good thing, but the urgency was not there. It was accepted, where indeed there was some thoughtful consideration, that there was no other way. It was accepted the opportunity provided to the few could never be extended to the many.
This view today, however, is patently false. Free empowerment platforms like Alison.com allow people to study any of thousands of courses for free, and at any time, at any level, and potentially, in any language. They allow teachers and subject-matter-experts to teach and share what they know for payment while retaining free access to learners. These platforms enable self-discovery and greater self-awareness through free psychometric testing, and now provide through free recruitment services, a continuous conduit and pathway from greater knowledge and skills to new, better, and more secure employment opportunities.
Why are these platforms not being assisted more by society? There is a simple answer. There is little economic incentive for anyone to embrace change in education. This needs to change.
Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) have semi-permanent funding from governments all over the world. Industry leaders have the ear of politicians, and even the most talented of political leaders find it difficult to see and hear what innovation is happening outside the education industry status quo, mainly due to the strength of HEI lobbying and public relations operations which are in turn, paid for by the very governments that fund them.
These institutions are simply not set up to embrace the opportunity of education and skills training for the whole world as presented today. For courses that are provided online, the true economic value of same should only be charged to students – and in most cases, that cost is very nominal if not free. Traditional institutions will find it very hard to do this efficiently. They are over-staffed with people with the wrong skillsets. Indeed, in a recent conversation with the CEO of a national training agency, his concern was not how he and his organization could deliver new skills at a modern cost, but how he could retain his spending $800m a year on salaries of a $1B budget on staff who were no longer the right people for the task. HEIs are not social schemes for the employment of large numbers of people. Where technology and massive distributed teaching and learning (MDTL) can be implemented, the efficiencies are unmatchable.
Where MDTL is possible, governments should pull back traditional funding of HEIs. The savings will present the opportunity for governments to fund other areas of education which need more resources such as early learning and the introduction of more special needs assistants – an area where a large number of former teachers can be re-deployed.
Not all HEIs will face collapse. Where HEI’s provide sustainable competitive value-add, such as the provision of controlled laboratories, and centres of advanced research, engaged by basic science funding of direct commercial research, these institutions can thrive. It is a future based not on nostalgia, but performance. On merit, not entitlement.
MDTL will impact students in a profound way. They will be able to educate themselves more quickly, more deeply, more flexibly in terms of time and also at next to no cost, saving them a semi-lifetime of repaying college loans which faces many of those experiencing the “privilege” of HEI education today. The learning provided can be much better focused on their specific needs as they can assess their potential and personal likes better through free psychometric testing and they can study exactly what they want to study, and not be limited to the electives to which any one college is able to provide access.
Similarly, the fleeting three or four-year social exercise that college is today becomes a lifelong exercise of constant upskilling and retraining at no cost. This phenomenon holds the potential of a tremendous upsurge in productivity around the world but within it, the tools to deal with the biggest challenges of our time including climate change, ignorance, and media literacy.
The future of education is to be seen in the masses – everyone a learner, everyone a teacher, in a world where understanding and experience is shared at an unprecedented level, something hard to comprehend in today’s world but something that can happen extraordinarily quickly if embraced. MDTL will change the world as we know it for the better. Let it begin.