Innovations in Higher Education? Hah!
Some of the most interesting work begins in the academy but grows beyond it. “Scale” is not an academic value—but it should be. Most measures of prestige in higher education are based on exclusivity; the more prestigious the college, the larger the percentage of applicants it turns away. Consider the nonprofit Khan Academy, with its library of more than 3,000 education videos and materials, where I finally learned just a little about calculus. In the last 18 months, Khan had 41 million visits in the United States alone. It is using the vast data from that audience to improve its platform and grow still larger. TED, the nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, just launched TED-Ed, which uses university faculty from around the world to create compelling videos on everything from “How Vast Is the Universe?” to “How Pandemics Spread.” Call it Khan Academy for grown-ups. The Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun’s free course in artificial intelligence drew 160,000 students in more than 190 countries. No surprise, the venture capitalists have come a-calling, and they are backing educational startups like Udemy and Udacity.
All of those are signposts to a future where competency-based credentials may someday compete with a degree.
At this point, if you are affiliated with an Ivy League institution, you’ll be tempted to guffaw, harrumph, and otherwise dismiss the idea that anyone would ever abandon your institution for such ridiculous new pathways to learning. You’re probably right. Most institutions are not so lucky. How long will it take for change to affect higher education in major ways? Just my crystal ball, but I would expect that institutions without significant endowments will be forced to change by 2020. By 2025, the places left untouched will be few and far between.