Post-Secondary Education: A Forecast — Marlene Griffith Wrubel

I recently attended a panel discussion on Imagining Canada’s Future at Congress 2012. The three speakers, Dan Gardner, Don Tapscott and Diana Carney talked about the difficulties of predicting future changes in Canada over the next twenty years. What is clear is that change will happen and technology seems to be an undeniable force behind these changes. Tapscott encouraged us to participate in the change through his words, “the future is to be achieved”. This panel discussion left me wondering about the future of post-secondary education. I want to share two scenarios.

Scenario one: I think post-secondary education will remain the same. Classes will be held in brick and mortar buildings, lectures are the primary mode of teaching, and technology is used in a supporting role. Anyone who has completed a post-secondary education will tell you, “it’s about the experience”. They will say: Remember the excitement you felt your first day on campus? How about the anxiety experienced during late night sessions to study for a test or complete an assignment due the next day?  The victory of receiving a hard won passing grade in your least favourite course. I remember the professor that made me feel like I was the smartest student in the room. I also remember the help received from university staff in cutting through red tape in order to continue my studies. So, in this scenario, we pursue post-secondary education for a degree, and above all, for the experience.

Scenario two: The attraction for the student is customization and portability of the learning experience. The courses offered by the institution are determined by labour market demands (and student demands). Students tailor their academic program to meet their employment goals and use the computer, internet, and mobile devices to learn, connect with classmates, and interact with the course instructor. Staff is knowledgeable and comfortable communicating with students via the online environment. Technology is the primer for the look and feel of the university experience.

The Congress panelists encouraged us to be active participants in the changes around us rather than watch from the sidelines as things unfold. In speculating about the changes in post-secondary education, I am left with many questions such as: What will matter most to students about how, when and where they learn? How is equity and value maintained between academic programs and disciplines if students customize their learning experiences? And how do you assess for learning in this instance? If technology plays a pivotal role in the learning process, what role will faculty and staff play in creating “the experience” for students? I hope you’ll join me in monitoring the signs of change in post-secondary education and along the way, hopefully, find answers to some of these questions.


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