When students can learn anything they want online, why bother with campus life at all? That’s the question driving much of the current conversation around higher education—and it may be one that colleges and universities are soon losing. Education futurist Jakim Pearson lays out the case for why college is headed back to its roots in apprenticeship while also offering up figures on how many students are already opting out of the college experience in favor of self-directed, online learning.
Pearson discusses what’s wrong with today’s educational system, how it can be fixed (or at least improved), and where traditional residential colleges and universities fit into the future mix. He also talks about how technology can be harnessed for learning, even if you believe that the only way to learn is by making mistakes—a concept not so welcome in online learning environments.
“I think that people are waking up to the idea that not everyone has to go to college,” he says. “And I think that’s a very healthy thing.”
He went on to say that it’s essential to figure out what differentiates higher education from other forms of learning that are available online for free, like the Khan Academy. “I think it’s about how do you take these tools and turn them into something where people see value in their lives,” he says.
Pearson believes that online education is the next logical step in the evolution of learning. But it’s not just about replacing campus life with cyber spheres, he says. “Something that has always been true throughout human history is that you learn more by being around other people who know more than just being in a room by yourself.”
He compares this to reading one blog on world news versus spending an hour with someone who knows world news firsthand. The latter, he says, is an experience that you can’t get online.
“There are also some fundamental changes in the way we work and live that means we do need to re-think how education happens,” he says. “You might not necessarily want to go out and get a college degree so that you can learn more about whatever particular interest it is that you’re following as a personal passion.”
He also talks about online learning as a way to gain a competitive edge over peers who are leveraging the same degree programs for job opportunities.
“I think there’s always going to be some form of credentialing,” he says, “but I also think that there are more efficient ways of doing it.”
He suggests that university administrators remember the needs of their student body when deciding what kind of degrees to offer. “I think the most important thing is what you want your student population to actually get out of it,” he says.
Pearson suggests that universities need to reinvent themselves around how students work and live, not just repackage their existing model. He points out that we spend more time learning than ever before and still have a 50 percent graduation rate at best.
“What are the markers of progress?” he asks. “I think it’s not just about retention rates.”