Embracing radical transformations in higher education

July 20, 201510:57 am344 views
Embracing radical transformations in higher education
Embracing radical transformations in higher education

You have just knocked off from work and hopped on to an MRT train for a 30-minute ride home.

After getting a seat, you pull out your mobile phone and log on to your degree programme learning zone to catch up on some coursework. You finish reading some materials that you have downloaded from the university’s online library. Still unsure about certain points, you get on to an online forum to chat with your professor and some course mates who happen to be online. By the time you reach your stop, you have not only captured an outline for your assignment on your smart device, but also completed an online test that is required of your module.

Fast forward five years. Armed with your degree and extensive experience in your technical field, you have advanced in your career and made the bold leap to start a business. To better prepare for your client presentation, you have over the past few weeks taken online modules from some universities to gain deeper insights into the data analytics of your client’s business.

Now on your way to meet the client, you are feeling positive about the future of your business. You decide to free your mind from the presentation and review your plan to raise S$5 million from crowdfunding. You touch your Apple Watch 8, and …

Does this read like utopia in life-long learning? Probably not, if we fast forward 10 to 15 years from now.

In the past 20 years, advancements in digital technology have practically impacted every aspect of how we live, communicate and work and have dramatically changed our lives beyond our wildest imagination.

Similarly, over the next 20 years or maybe much less, the way we learn and teach will also be radically transformed beyond what we know today. The changes in the higher education sector will be reflective of how industries such as music, entertainment and news have been changed by technology.

These changes are unstoppable and will continue to gain momentum in bringing about a paradigm shift that will liberalise higher education and revolutionise the way we understand and acquire knowledge.

The fact that many well-known universities such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford are making some of their courses freely available online as massive open online courses signifies a move in this direction.


Today, the business of higher education lies in the hands of educational institutions with well-established campuses, structures and curricula that dictate how learning is to be experienced generally.

Acquiring a degree is a covetous pursuit that opens doors to one’s career, available to those who are assessed as deserving by traditional measurements of academic abilities. Historically, this has also meant a clear study-work divide — one finishes university over a fixed three- to four-year period before embarking on a career.

In future, this study-work divide will be increasingly blurred as further education becomes no longer confined to a fixed period in our youth, but takes place as we work and learn throughout our lifetime.

Qualification and achievement in higher education will not be based on grades alone, but will instead be considered along with experience, knowledge and skill set.

Higher education will become more accessible. We will not need to go to a university to get a degree. We can acquire a higher education anytime, anywhere and at a pace that works for us. This will be made possible as educators and education providers collaborate and compete to provide an ever-growing offering of college courses that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.

What is more exciting is that we will be able to customise our own learning experience. Imagine the possibilities of being able to put together courses from a variety of universities and other providers, picking and choosing content that is the most relevant and useful to us.

We can also decide how we want to learn — online study, face-to-face classes, or a hybrid of both. Although we will still have to read and do research and write papers as well as interact with professors and our peers on what we have learnt, what is different is that how we do these will be designed entirely by us, according to our needs and preferences.


With these changes, a concomitant shift will occur in the way credits and degrees are awarded and valued. An unbundling of degree credits will allow the learner to accumulate them along his learning journey.

These credentials will be considered together with work and life experiences, and will be acceptable to employers in evaluating knowledge and skill set.

There will be a need for a reliable system to ensure standards and integrity. And as a traditional degree becomes less important than experience, knowledge and skills in getting a job or career advancement, there will be a more level playing field for many people to prove their true worth.

This could be a double-edged sword; as almost everyone has access to higher education and a degree is no longer a big differentiator, employees will have to stand out by developing extraordinary capabilities in other areas. Perhaps this will encourage the achievement of the real goal of education; instead of just being a paper chase, it can help individuals find their passion, talent and meaning.

Will it drive up the costs of education? Maybe, in the short term. But as the number of learners increases, the cost to each individual learner would drop. More providers and a healthily competitive environment can only be good for the industry.

Will this spell the demise of the traditional university or educational institution? No. There is still an important role for these organisations to play, not just in terms of research that generates new knowledge, but also in educating and providing the physical campus experience that some people still value.

However, these institutions will have to be responsive to the changes brought about by new ways of teaching and learning that are not confined by place, space and pace. For providers of higher education, business cannot be as usual, and adjustments will be needed to ensure that they remain relevant in future.

On the whole, all these changes will augur well for Singapore as it moves into a new phase of development. This is the motivation behind the Government’s SkillsFuture initiative, which aims to equip Singaporeans with real-world applied skills for the job market, through the acquisition of relevant deep skills, rather than mere paper qualifications.


news source & image credits: todayonline.com

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