Will universities cease to exist? Challenging scenarios in the age of eLearning

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Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash

In many ways, the traditional model of higher education hasn’t changed substantially since Socrates lectured to a group of students in a Roman public square. Professors still deliver lectures in hushed classrooms and students schedule their lives around class times and homework. But the “brick and mortar” model may not be able to meet the challenges of a new, digitally-driven era of higher education.

Like many other industries, the world of higher education is undergoing a digital transformation that promises to revolutionize how people consume knowledge. To survive in this new world, colleges and universities around the globe must combine traditional classroom teaching and sophisticated digital tools in new e-learning scenarios designed to make higher education more accessible, affordable and efficient than ever.

Digital Transformation: A New World for Higher Education

In a world dominated by digital tools and round the clock access to services and products on demand, colleges and universities are facing a struggle to survive and stay relevant.

Today’s typical college student is a “digital native” accustomed to managing all aspects of life through online portals and apps — and these students expect the same experience in their education. They may prefer to access learning at their own convenience, with tools as sophisticated and convenient as those they use every day. For them, attending classes at set times and locations is limiting.

The cost of a traditional four-year college education also creates obstacles for many students, who must take often take on debt that follows them throughout their professional life. To get access to the programs they need, students may also have to relocate. Going away to college can add out of state tuition fees and residential costs, which shuts out students who are unable to make the move.

The concept of higher education itself is also undergoing a shift. In the past, completing a degree could lead to a job without the need for additional training. But in a constantly changing working world, lifelong learning is rapidly becoming the norm. Employers expect workers to constantly acquire new skills and certifications far beyond their graduation date.

To meet these new demands, dedicated online learning platforms are offering affordable access to a wide range of courses and even degree programs students can pursue without ever leaving home. Universities and colleges that are deeply invested in traditional models of classroom instruction may be ill-equipped to compete with these new models. A new model that integrates the best aspects of standard classroom instruction with innovative digital tools can help these institutions reach a global “student body” with affordable, quality learning options that meet a variety of different needs.

E-Learning Scenarios for the Future

Online learning was once dismissed as inferior in every way to the classroom model — and that model can still offer a unique educational experience that can’t be fully replicated online. But most colleges and universities are now incorporating some type of e-learning to complement standard classroom instruction, such as an online version of a traditional class, or a hybrid format that integrates online tools into the classroom.

Still, other scenarios include adding fully online programs that bring together leading academics from a variety of different institutions. Other options include telecourses that also incorporate local learning communities and groups. In that way, online students can meet in person and practice skills, study together and connect with professors. Colleges and universities might also partner with leading e-learning platforms to expand their offerings and reach a wider base of students.

There’s still a need for higher education’s familiar model of in-person classroom education. But that model faces a number of challenges including rising costs, logistical issues and changing views on the value and purpose of education itself. To survive — and thrive — in a digital future, universities and colleges will need to reinvent themselves with flexible, accessible platforms that blend the best of both traditional and e-learning worlds.

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