Five years ago was the beginning of 2007. George Bush was President, Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California, Barack Obama wasn’t very well known, and Saddam Hussein had just been executed in Iraq.

Five years ago the Dow Jones was on a tear, on track to break 14,000, and some of the big names on Wall Street were Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, WaMu, and Wachovia, names that no longer exist.

Some of the hottest job markets were in Florida, Arizona, and Las Vegas, areas that were about to see a mass exodus from jobs evaporating in thin air.

The iPhone had just been introduced, MySpace was the top social networking site, and the world still hadn’t heard of the Amazon Kindle, iTunesU, mobile apps, iPad, Hulu, and Twitter.

But 2007 was also the year that today’s college graduates decided on which college to attend and what their major would be. This is the stark reality of the 5-year educational pipeline created by today’s existing college and university system. Today’s colleges take far too long and are far too expensive. Here’s why.

Open Courseware Movement

The idea of Open Courseware started in 1999 when the University of Tübingen in Germany published videos of lectures online. However, the movement didn’t really catch on until MIT launched it’s OpenCourseWare project in October 2002, followed soon after by similar efforts at Yale, Michigan University, and the University of California Berkeley.

Today, MIT has 2,080 courses available online and they have had over 131 million downloads.

Starting a couple years later in 2004, The Khan Academy now has over 2,800 courses that have had over 123 million downloads.

However, the 8,000-pound gorilla in this space is iTunesU started in 2007. They currently have over 1,000 Universities participating from 26 countries. Their selection of classes, now exceeding the 500,000 mark, have had over 700 million downloads. In addition, they recently announced they were expanding into the K-12 market.

As it stands now, all OpenCourseWare courses are free to anyone wishing to take them. However, the granting of credits is another matter.

Our Overarching Need for Teacherless Education Systems

After my talk at the TEDx Reset Event in Istanbul earlier this month, I had a conversation with a regional manager for Google who attended the event. He told me that Google is very interested in teacherless education because they have been struggling to find ways to educate people in Africa due to very few teachers want to move to Africa.

The notion that “better teachers equal better education” is based on a false premise. There can never be enough good teachers to go around, not if we are educating an entire world of 7 billion people, and certainly not if they all have to be there in person.

If we restrict ourselves to “learning” only when someone is available to “teach,” we are destined to remain a woefully ignorant society.

People are learning from the moment they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night. And some researchers believe we are learning the most while we’re sound asleep.

Yes, great teachers have proven techniques for presenting information in a way that makes it easily understood. And yes, the best teachers have to teach a subject several times before they can figure out all the best ways to teach it. But we now have the technology to take the best of the best and extend it to the far regions of the earth.

Education as a Commodity

Whenever education can be packaged into a repeatable format, it becomes a commodity. Certainly not all education fits into this category, but a remarkable portion of it does.

In 2008, Roger Bohn and James Short, two researchers at the University of California in San Diego, decided to do a study to determine how much information people have entering their brains on a daily basis.

Everyone today is being exposed to vast amounts of information, and their study was intended to quantify the amount of information we are all being immersed in.

But they added a rather interesting twist to the study. Because of the varying forms of information, and the difficulty in comparing video to magazines and newspapers, they decided to convert all information into one standard form of measurement – words.

Based on their final 2009 report, the average person in the U.S. has 100,500 words flowing into their heads on a daily basis. And this number is increasing by 2.6% per year.

So where are all these words coming from? In rough terms, 41% comes from watching television, 27% – computers, 11% – radio, 9% – print media, and smaller amounts from recorded music, movies, games, and other information sources.

As it turns out, the average American spends 11.8 hours every day consuming information. Some of it well structured, but most of it not.

Most educational institutions haven’t found a good way to leverage the current data streams flowing into the minds of students. Instead, they simply regarding it as irrelevant.

Whenever the information is incomplete, our minds will fill in the blanks, and often times incorrectly. A recent study done by KnowledgeFactor in Denver showed that roughly 15% of all information in our heads is confidently held misinformation.

Somewhere in the middle of all these information streams is the next, next, next big thing waiting to be mined.

So What’s Missing?

Early in 2007 (exactly 5 years ago), I wrote a paper that described all of the components of a fully integrated online learning system. Many pieces of the original architecture I predicted have already begun to take shape. Here is a quick assessment of the pieces that are still missing.

  • Rapid Courseware-Builder – Several sites are developing courseware builders, yet to date there is nothing that can be done quickly.
  • Courseware Standards – Once we develop some base standards around what constitutes a standardized learning module, such as time (30 or 60 minute modules), attributes (learning styles), and taxonomies (categorizations for prerequisites), an entire new industry of course designers will emerge to meet these standards. There is an undeniable opportunity here for someone who manages to take the lead.
  • Modality Agnostic, Language Agnostic – Learning comes in many forms ranging from reading text, to listening to audio, to watching video, to hands-on experiences, and more. The standardized learning module needs to accommodate all modes of sensory input and learning experiences.
  • Sustainable Paid Model – Education is never free. It requires time, commitment, and understanding. Similarly, a well-functioning online learning system needs some revenue stream to incentivize good content and insure its long-term survivability.
  • Student-Driven, Industry-Driven Ratings System – So far no systems allow for multiple forms of rating, such as student ratings combined with industry (think IEEE or American Chemical Society) grading of content.
  • Student Preference Engine (What should I take next?) – Every student’s interests and preferences will change over time. A well-designed system will be able to decipher personal whims and integrate those changing desires into a new kind of preference engine that suggests what they will want to learn next.
  • Alternative Credentialing System – Colleges and Universities currently have a lock on the granting of the all-important college credits. Credits, as they exist today, will be a poor match for the online world currently emerging. For this reason, there is a golden opportunity for someone to reinvent the credit system in a way that will work well in global online learning environment.
  • Learning Camps – Since a large portion of information requires physical touch-and-feel learning and cannot be conveyed in a digital-only format, a new breed of learning camps will emerge that are closely integrated with the online system.

Eight Things You Won’t Find in a Course Delivery College in the Future

Over time we will see colleges split into two different models that will emphasize either course delivery or knowledge creation. Those colleges involved only in course delivery will become very price competitive as online courseware becomes universally distributed. Most will be seeking unique ways to differentiate themselves and assert some new competitive advantage.

Here are a few things you won’t find in future colleges that only emphasize course-delivery:

  1. A Physical Campus – Most physical campuses will evolve into a clustering of learning camps and knowledge creation organizations.
  2. Dormitories – Traditional dormitories will be converted into a variety of short-stay residences, longer-stay apartments, or multi-use facilities.
  3. Expensive Textbooks – The days of the expensive physical textbook are numbered.
  4. Credit Hours – An alternative credentialing system will soon emerge.
  5. 4-Year Degrees – Traditional 4-year degrees will be replaces with lifetime learning credentials. Masters and PhDs will become junior achievement levels in a much larger system that recognizes far higher levels of accomplishments.
  6. Sports Teams – Colleges in the future won’t be able to manage the overhead of today’s elaborate collegiate sports competitions. Existing sports programs that are self-sufficient will transition into community-based sports leagues.
  7. Classrooms – While some form of classroom will always exist, the any-time, any-place advantages of online course delivery will make the vast majority of them obsolete.
  8. Teachers – Yes, we will also have a long-term need for teachers, but in the course-delivery college of the future, where courses are delivered online, teachers, trainers, and professors will be replaced with coaches who can assist whenever someone gets stuck.

Unleashing Our True Potential

Teaching requires experts. Learning only requires coaches.

We are shifting from a teaching model to a learning model.

In order to teach a topic, the person in the front of the room has to be an expert on the topic. There simply aren’t enough experts to go around. As we move into online learning environments, we will move away from teachers to coaches – people who are experts at helping people learn.

To some this may seem like a subtle distinction, but it will have a profound effect on today’s educational systems.

Final Thoughts

Business professionals in the future will require twice as much training as their counterparts today just to be competitive.

As we move into a globally competitive environment, the competition will stiffen, and our need to shift gears will happen at a moment’s notice. We will no longer have the time and place luxuries of waiting for education to happen.

If your entire universe of courseware options for training is the 2,000 courses offered by most universities, you will find yourself at a severe disadvantage when competing against someone who was trained through a system like iTunes, with over 500,000 course options currently and millions more in the future.

The transition ahead for colleges and universities will be messy as competing forces on both sides of the change movement begin to form. Moving along the same lines as virtually every other industry of the past, colleges will be forced to become more efficient, doing more for less.

Over time, this transition will offer tremendous benefits to society. In much the same way that ancient libraries had their books chained to the podiums, colleges have tried to chain learning to their campuses. Unleashing these chains of learning will serve as a cathartic release for the entire world.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything

12 Responses to “The 5-Year Pipeline”

Comments List

  1. <a href='http://www.Market-Engineering.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Gary Lundquist</a>

    Tom, I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that campuses will still flourish for at least another 30 years. I had the pleasure of having Bruce Benson, President of the University of Colorado, inform me about the growth of their learning environment. His plans stretch 20 years or more. > I took my Ph.D. in geophysics working with and learning from people who taught classes as well as demanding individual learning. I thought CIRES (my institute) had died because I couldn't find it any more. Turns out that it is scheduled to be built into the new South Campus. > Dying. Not close. Reducing? No. Expanding ! As simple a class as English benefits from interactions with other students. In lab courses such as chemistry, expert teachers and equipment are essential. You can't really learn chemistry by reading. Not even at the high-school level. > Consider relationships. Yes, we do a lot of relating by email. Yet is that sufficient? Is an email enough? Do we forget how to shake hands? > For underclass students, college is a place to learn about life. Hell, I still learn more about life from personal interaction than all of the e-resources that surround me day and night. > So long as there are people, learning will be advanced by personal interaction. > Of course, some "teachers" are not very good. They put up with the classes to be part of a system in which they advance their arts and sciences. Many never learned how to teach, just as many students never learn how to learn. > Ho hell! I'm ranting. > Let's see. 2012: Let's plan coffe at your place on March 1, 2025 and see how it turns out. Best Gary
  2. Gustavo

    Very interesting and enlightnening article. I agree that this is the direction that education is evolving, and not only university level, but also lower educational levels.What I ask myself is how this trend will affect students that can not deal with this kind of learning. Students that "need" a learning environment to study (not everyone has the self disipline to study alone). Students with learning disruptions, etc And last but not less, what about the social environment that univeristies provides, the enrichment of sharing common interests with students of different areas, interacting face to face. If we want to think about e-lerning we must also take care of the other "e", the emotional one. May be we will take a good human being and make a profesional out of him. We must take care of getting good persons out of the profesionals also
  3. Spikosauropod

    Thomas, Reading this article made me really tired. As I see it, the problem we are facing amounts to raising every living person’s technological savvy by 10% per year. We may reorganize our educational system to accommodate all this reeducating and re reeducating, but the people are another matter. People are not like flash memory that can be overwritten a dozen times. What makes you believe they will be amenable to all this reeducating? Short of taking a smart pill or getting some sort of AI augmentation, I can’t see how ordinary people are going to keep up with the world we are creating.
    • admin

      Scott, Great input. If you look at where we've come from just in the past 20 years, I think you're underestimating human ability to morph and change. Yes, a few smart pills would be nice, but adding a few of the right incentives and dangling the right opportunity in front of the right people at the right time can instantly change someones perspective. However, not all are destined for greatness. There will be many failures along the way. We are moving into a globally competitive marketplace, and the changes are coming whether or not I've predicted them correctly, or whether or not anyone will be happy to see them when they arrive. Thomas Frey
  4. <a href='http://www.westviewmarketing.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Francoise Luca</a>

    Thomas, Congratulations on a very interesting article. As a marketer (and parent) it seems to me the key elements to the "pipeline" you describe are really three things: 1.) Access to technology (a computer and internet/broadband access for the student, plus video production capabilities for the instructors) 2.) Reading/Writing proficiency (Regardless to the amount of video content, the student will need to read and write to fully participate. So there will need to be a "live teacher" somewhere in the beginning of the educational process.) 3.) Desire for Knowledge - This can not be taught. It must be inspired. If the student or teacher (any age, any culture, anywhere) does not seek the information, it is of no use for it to be on the internet. Again, this may call for a "live teacher", parent, or mentor to inspire the search or encourage curiosity. Video instruction via the internet is a fabulous tool. Yet, I think there will always be a need for "live" social interaction in a teaching/learning environment. I think learners of all ages benefit from human interaction (aka an educational campus). Thanks, Francoise Luca Westview Marketing
    • admin

      Francoise, Thanks for your ideas on this. Nice way of framing the discussion. Yes, humans are social creatures by nature. We gain energy from being around others. Many of the changes ahead will center around the re-gamification of education. It's already been established as a game with specific rules as to who wins and who loses. The re-gamification will involve changing the rules to better match the new tech/social structures of society. It's not clear what all pieces will change and what will stay the same, but from my vantage point, the biggest advantages can be gained when most of today's rules are rewritten. Thomas Frey
  5. <a href='http://www.treebeardsound.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Tim</a>

    Tom, I always appreciate your writing and forward views. My "gut" reaction to this article was a sinking feeling of loss, much like felt after reading your "2 billion jobs lost in the future" article. I don't disagree, it just makes me feel sad. As a mid 50's man with a 21 year old daughter and a grandchild I just wonder how these kids will survive in this future we are molding for them. I am a musician and Voice-Over artist and I see opportunity for Voice work in all these video's and games that future learners will be needing since I agree that audible sessions versus text on screen and paper enable easier if not more entertaining intake of information. But I sure worry about a society that can't read because they are so used to being read to. Sure is thought provoking!
  6. uday pasricha

    Always need to learn from your thoughts which create new visions for all of us. The college, the teacher, the class room and a course will exist with different names and places. The college will be the community learning center where many facilitators ( erstwhile teachers) will help ( some free desks and some at a cost) to design your next 30 day course from a million choices. Then there will be a class rooms which will be the "secure zone" to keep peace and quiet. Security will be whom we may call learning invigilators. Finally we can find the old fashioned teacher classroom who will help youngsters do their "home work".Thank you Thomas Frey.
  7. Andrew Brown

    Thanks Thomas! What a wonderful post. I'm still not sure what Hulu is :). My sense is that there are areas such as technical training where the delivery model and the direction you describe would be perfect. There are also areas of learning which are much more about our behaviours, mindsets and beliefs that we develop through social interaction or group dialogue. You describe idea of learning camps that are aligned to the on-line system - perhaps the learning camp is the curriculum for learning about self and learning about leadership, i.e. the art of being human and social. While you can still have virtual meetings etc, there is great learning value in the difficult conversations / authentic moments that occur in a live leadership development programme. Peter Senge used the term "team learning" - I have learned things about connecting with people and engaging with people that I haven't seen a adequately put into words in an online learning system (or a book for that matter!). Andrew
  8. Noeline

    This is the most inspiring article I have read in a long time. The shift in focus from teacher to learner is the biggest change happening. I just studied animal training online and travelled across the world for a 10 day workshop to conclude the course. Loved it and changed careers. People now have the option to learn what ever they want or need to. Just because teachers stand up and teach, doesn't mean learners learn. The point about learning with and from others is a good one. But social media has made that easier too! There is now the option to meet up when there is a need, not just because it is the only way to communicate. Now to start designing some learning material... Noeline
  9. Ron Abate

    We should keep in mind that all open courseware will vary in instructional efficacy. The best instructional software should contain the following: •Progress from basic to complex units of instruction. •Frequently check for mastery by testing the student’s learning of each unit. •Repeating instruction if mastery is not achieved, often using alternate teaching strategies built into the software. •Progressing to the next level only after mastery of the current unit is achieved. •Detecting signs of fatigue and suggesting that the student should rest. •A system that “learns” and implements the most effective instructional mode for each student. •Providing options for rewarding for mastery. This may be a tangible reward like printing a certificate that can be used as “money” or a verbal compliment. The selction of a reward system is contingent on what best motivates the learner. •Automatically notifying a facilitator when a learner needs assistance. •A system that stores the progress for each learner.

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