In 2004, two men, Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons, left their jobs with PayPal to join MRL Ventures, a business incubator. These two men had an idea to begin an email-based referral program. The program was designed to provide crowd-sourced reviews about local businesses via email. Unfortunately, the two men were unable to find investors so the idea was shelved. One day Stoppelman came down with the flu and needed a recommendation for a good doctor. At the time, there were no resources available to provide people with recommendations on reliable services or businesses. There was little information available on the Internet and at the time most recommendations were still made by word-of-mouth. This caused both men to re-think and re-invent their idea. They decided to change the information delivery model from an email-based system to an Internet-based system. They re-launched the concept in 2006 and by 2007 their site had 6 million monthly visitors. Thanks to a case of the flu, a failed concept was re-invented into a successful business. “Yelp is now the best way to find great local businesses.”
Right now, higher education is a little under-the-weather and in need of some more effective remedies. Sometimes old stand-by medicines will work and at other times the invention of new, alternative medication is needed. The beauty of education is the opportunity to learn, grow, discover, and ultimately put existing knowledge into practice in new ways that betters the world in which we live. The interesting part of education is that the challenges, concerns, and issues facing higher education today are not new. Education like history is cyclical and issues and trends tend to repeat themselves. This is not new, but if higher education truly wants to reinvent itself in order to be sustainable, it needs to seriously consider the paths already taken. It might be time to learn from the past lessons and blaze new trails.
For instance, competency-based education is the MOOC of 2014 and will more than likely continue on into 2015. However, competency-based education is not new, in fact, it was introduced in the late 60s. Its introduction followed criticisms that students were not being taught the life and work skills they needed throughout the rest of their lives. Does that criticism sound familiar? The same criticism that postsecondary education was receiving in the 60s is the same criticism that higher education is hearing now. Students are graduating unprepared to participate in the marketplace and are burdened by increasing debt.
While competency-based education has been around for decades it did not gain the notoriety that it has until now. Several innovative institutions, such as Thomas Edison State College, Excelsior College, Western Governors University, and DePaul University’s School for New Learning, have been successfully delivering competency-based programs as silent leaders while the rest of higher education is just now sitting up and taking notice.
Today, there is an opportunity to re-invent the solutions of yesterday to meet the needs of students today and prepare them for the future they will face tomorrow.
In order for higher education to adapt to the changing landscape, focus should be placed on the following:
- Understanding the need. There is not just one need that higher education should concern itself with, instead there are various perspectives which all need to be addressed. Students need flexibility, affordability, and applicability. Regulatory and governmental agencies need transparency, accountability, and quality.
- Being resourceful. Higher education is being required to do more with less funding. This doesn’t mean that the focus should necessarily be on requiring more money to innovate. Sometimes the greatest contributions can be made by reallocating resources that are already available.
- Being persistent. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, higher education will not be transformed in a day. In order for change to occur at all, it takes doing. It also requires trial and error.
- Being innovative. Sometimes it’s what you don’t do that can drive innovation. Not every “in” idea is the right one, but components of every idea could provide enough spark to revolutionize the way we approach education.
“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”
~ Niccolo Machiavelli
With the rapid changes in technology, everyone expects more and they expect it to occur immediately. It is foolish to think that changes within higher education can occur overnight, but it is equally foolish for higher education to think that what’s worked in the past will continue to meet the needs of the future.