I did a Q&A for my keynote at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference (January 11 and 12, 2016, New Brunswick, New Jersey - On Twitter: #RUOnlineCon - Conference website: RUonlineCon.rutgers.edu )
My talk - "The Disconnected" grew out of the many references I have been seeing to the re-emergence of autodidacts — people “who learn on their own”— and other societal trends that point to a new group of learners that I feel will be reshaping higher education. Trends like the sharing economy, the maker movement, the do-it-yourself movement, open source coding, “cord cutting” and a “rent rather than buy” mindset could all affect higher education significantly in the future.
The “disconnected” comprise about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research, which estimates that number will double in the next 10 years.
Q: Who are “the disconnected”?
Me: Some of the disconnected are people who want to learn things, but do not necessarily want schools to provide that education in traditional ways.
They are a widening group that is not as age-bound as we might imagine. They are not just Millennials. These are people who are connecting differently to the world, society and education. My talk at Rutgers will identify this group by their behavior and will consider how higher education may deal with this disconnected or differently-connected student.
Q: What’s one takeaway for higher educators?
Me: If you accept the fact that there is such a group, as an educator you have to ask: 'Would "the disconnected" still want to come to a school to receive a traditional degree - or will they want another path and another product?'
But it's not like you can say: ‘Here's the evidence that students are not going to come to the university.’ And I'm not convinced that they won’t. For purposes of discussion, though, if these students, or potential students, are not going to be interested in going for the degrees that we offer, do we just lose them to other things—or do we try to pursue them in other ways?
Q: Are universities preparing for this?
Me: I can already see indications that universities are doing some things to attract those people, including alternative, competency-based, and three-year degrees, and even more certificate programs.
Back in 2012, I taught a fairly early MOOC (massive open online course). The big outcry then was: 'That's it. That's the end. Who's going to go to a university if they can get all these courses online for free?' I was never convinced that that was going to happen. I didn't think MOOCs were going to destroy the university. There will always be some students who want to go to a Rutgers or Princeton for four years and live on campus and have those experience. But I think there are going to be fewer of those people.
I think that colleges are going to have to offer the traditional and they're going to have to offer nontraditional alternatives. And I'm not sure that's something they want to do. From the business point of view, that's going to hurt the core business.
It is really hard for universities to implement alternatives. Online education has often been seen as that alternative, and that may continue to be a part of the solution, but they may even need to do new things with their online programs.
The conference will have four other keynote speakers, and 35 presentations and roundtable speakers, and is designed for any higher education faculty and staff interested in gaining perspectives and honing skills with best practices and innovative technologies in education.
RUOnlineCon is presented by the Rutgers University Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and New Jersey Research & Education Network (NJEDge).