I’ve Seen The Future – And It’s Wearing Boxers

The future of university educationUniversity is changing

In the old days, you’d go to university for 3 or 4 years. You’d live on ramen noodles (or Pot Noodles if you were at a British uni). You’d take all your washing home every few months for your Mom to take care of. And you’d come out the other side with a lot of debt and hopefully a degree to show for it. You’d then get a job that in many cases is only vaguely related to the subject you earned your degree in.

Times are changing.

University is changing.

Jobs are changing.

The business of university is worth billions. Tuition fees. Funding for research. Textbooks. And where there’s a lot of money at stake, you can guarantee that people will innovate to get a slice of it.

And innovate they are. The Minerva Project is looking to offer an Ivy League education – online. At the moment, online education often has a reputation for providing Mickey Mouse degrees. If two people applied for a job and they both had the same degree – one from Harvard and one from ITT Tech, who would get picked? The Minerva Project is looking to shake that up and become an enviable source of learning.

With the advent of ebooks, the market for college textbooks looks like it’s going to get shaken up as well. Apple’s getting in on the act. No doubt Amazon will with the Kindle, along with many other companies.

It’s not always about the money though. Stanford are running some of their courses online for free. Codecademy is teaching anyone who wants to learn how to code for free. And Khan Academy has thousands of free videos teaching you anything from CA Algebra 1: Slope and Y-Intercept to multiplying binomials with radicals. And going back to textbooks, Boundless Learning is looking to provide free textbook replacements.

So what does this mean for our young people and their education in the future?

A lot of learning will move online. When you can get an excellent education from the comfort of your own home (and sitting in your boxers), why move to go to a university?

Consider how much money would be saved. Students (or their parents) wouldn’t have to pay for separate accommodation. For separate utilities. For such expensive textbooks. Over the course of 3-4 years, this amounts to a huge saving. Even if online courses charged expensive tuition fees, this could still easily be lower than the overall cost of university education as it stands.

The job market is changing as well. More and more jobs can be conducted remotely – I’m speaking from first hand experience. In the last two years, we’ve moved 5 times in the US and Thailand – all the while, I’ve worked for an insurance company that’s based in the UK.

The requirements for getting a job are starting to change as well. Although a good education is a pre-requisite for many jobs, experience is becoming a bigger part of a recruiter’s mindset. It’s all very well knowing something, but can you do it? There are start-ups that are going into larger companies and setting up testing scenarios for job applicants to show that they can actually do the job they’re being recruited for.

But is all this change a good thing?

Absolutely. Why? Because it’s opening up so many more opportunities for youth where there weren’t any before. Youth unemployment is a big problem all around the world, so we need innovative thinking to help solve the issue. There are many young people who can’t afford to go to university – the possibilities that online education opens up could transform their lives.

There will be many other young people that have natural ability and incredible technical skills learned from initiatives like Codecademy. In the past, they wouldn’t have been able to get their foot in the door at a company unless they had a piece of paper saying what they know. With more companies looking for the ability of job applicants though, rather than just a piece of paper, they stand more of a chance.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s still a future for traditional universities. Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, Stanford, etc will continue to have a certain cachet. Many students will still want to attend a university for the experience (*cough* partying *cough*). And there will be many who are dubious about anything learned on the internet.

But, I’ve seen the future of higher education……..and it’s wearing boxers.

Question: What future do you see for the education of our young people? Have a discussion in the comments below.

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