There is much written about how learning will need to be delivered into the future - that online delivery will move to a new level and that the way we develop and run courses will move from a content driven to a facilitation driven approach, and that the role of academic staff will change accordingly. I've been doing some work on how universities in particular are managed today, and the shifting nature of the relationship between academic and administrative/professional staff - it's clear to me from this research (submitted for publication) that we have to change the way we perceive how universities need to be managed, if we are to start to shape the new paradigm we are going to need if universities are to continue to be relevant learning organisations in the future.
Add that all together with conversations I have had lately with people 'on the ground' in universities who talk about silos, hierarchies, ineffective communication, ego driven decision making, and of course, lack of resources. I still see and hear people trying to hang on to the idea of a university that is no longer relevant, rather than pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones to see what's possible.
While, of course, not everyone who works in or manages or leads a university has a mindset stuck in old paradigms, there is still a disconnect between what we know about the possible and likely impacts of global trends and drivers of change on higher education and how we structure and run our universities.
Below are just a few trends that are starting to exert their influence today, and which we need to be thinking about how to respond to now, instead of just talking about them.
Re-learning your Career An increasing focus on re-training and re-skilling of existing workers and more generally, mature age learners (eg career changers, semi-retired folks). This trend is being driven by an increasing competition for talent and the increasingly mobile global workforce. People just don't stay with organisations as long as they used to, competition for good staff is increasing, and retaining and training the people already on staff is big business, and will probably get even bigger. Changing Workplace and Job Design The need to design jobs and workplaces to suit new generations of workers - not only GenY who are entering the workforce, now, but subsequent generations as well. This trend is being driven by the apparent different values held by GenY, particularly around liveability, work/life balance and concern about environmental impact. Industry reports that there is increasing demand for working hours and employees are looking for organisations that take social responsibility seriously.
Students as Designers of their Student Experience This trend is all about students designing/customising their student experience - what they learn, how they learn it, when and where they choose to learn. It's being driven by consumer trends and an increasingly strongly view of education as a commodity that, like all other 'products' and services, can and should be tailored and customised to suit user needs. This will require nimble organisations to be able to respond to the needs of particular student segments in a timely way. Industry reports on the need to provide flexible delivery options for training, and the growth in workplace training, the ability to be able to move in and out and up and down qualification frameworks and an ever increasing focus on student needs and service standards.
Co-Creation of Content Web 2.0 or social media technologies have facilitated the ability of users to create their own web content; increasingly companies are co-creating products with consumers, and the logical extension of this is that students will become co-creators of their curriculum. The trend is being driven by the expectation that users will be involved in their learning decisions - no only about which course to choose but which content matters to them. Institutions will need to provide information and support about career development in particular industries, related knowledge and skills and how students can design a course that provides these requirements. Industry reports that they need to be able to tailor curriculum needs to their needs by co-creating that curriculum with universities.
If we can't change the way we think about how universities need to be run and managed, we don't have much change of being able to respond to these sort of trends in a proactive way. Albert Einstein's often cited comment that we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them' remains true, particularly because what seems reasonable today will probably not be reasonable in to the future. I'm not sure that the higher education sector isn't still stuck in the rhetoric of change, and won't move beyond that until mindsets about what a university is and what it does start to shift to take account of what's really happening beyond the university walls.