The future of learning

Africa places huge value on formal education. Knowledge has created power and stimulated economic growth. We put a great deal of effort – and money – behind pushing the young population of this continent through as much education as they can take. In Kenya and Uganda we’re now the 4th generation of parents funding tertiary education. 

The current pandemic has exposed us to the realities of education in ways we never would have imagined. Through the Internet we are now embroiled in everything from preschool playgroups to university tutorials. We’ve all become teaching assistants. We see inspirational online classes and we see stuff that makes us wonder what we are paying for. Plus we get real-time feedback from the participants, without waiting for dinner time to exchange opinions. Zoom is creating an awakening about just how substandard and overpriced education can be at every level. So, what will the future hold for education and how will customers and consumers influence that?

Scott Galloway, who teaches marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, believes the pandemic has opened the door for the technological transformation of higher education. The future, he says,  will entail partnerships between the largest tech companies in the world and elite universities: MIT@Google, iStanford and HarvardxFacebook, for example.

 These will allow universities to dramatically expand enrollment by offering hybrid online-offline degrees, value perceptions of which will dramatically alter the higher education landscape. Galloway predicts hundreds of brick-and-mortar universities will go bust and those that remain will only educate the children of the richest families.

Coronavirus is forcing American parents to take a hard look at the $51,000 college tuition fees they’re spending. Galloway says, half-jokingly: “Even wealthy people just can’t swallow the jagged pill of tuition if it doesn’t involve sending their kids away for four years. Wait, my kid’s going to be home most of the year? Staring at a computer screen?” 

At the same time, the future holds the prospect of more people than ever gaining access to higher education, albeit one that is delivered mostly over the internet. Big tech partnerships could extend opportunities to millions of people. But they will undermine the humanity of the face-to face system of learning that has evolved since the European Renaissance.

There’s educational certification and then there’s the life experience of going to university. If the experience part disappears, the degrees awarded may reduce in value as we all realise it’s not the same to be a graduate if you never went to campus. 

This might be a great time for school-leavers to take a gap year. If only they could travel.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside.

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