The Future of the Collegiate Campus

Guest post by Alex Cusack. This article originally appeared on Medium.

We’re still in the first phase of the education revolution.

Technology is being used to improve the old way of doing things, but we have yet to explore the radically new models that are being made possible by these technologies.

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The collegiate campus

The genesis of the collegiate campus was the need to distribute knowledge. In a pre-internet world, if you wanted to learn something you had to be in physical proximity to the source. Whether it was a library, an office, or a lecture hall, accessing knowledge nearly always necessitated proximity. Content did not come to you, you went to it. Campuses were thus purposed around their libraries and lecture halls as their core function was the dissemination of the knowledge they held.

The process of transforming knowledge from its raw form into consumed curriculum can be broken down into three major categories: content production, content distribution, and content delivery. In the historical paradigm, institutions owned this entire “stack” out of necessity.

Institutions would work with faculty to convert their raw knowledge into consumable curricula. The campuses themselves served as distribution hubs, drawing the intellectually curious to campus, and the lecture halls and libraries served to facilitate content delivery and consumption.

Curating and housing the curricula gave institutions an effectively proprietary knowledge set, with each institution offering it’s own slightly unique curricula. The value of college was clear, if you wanted to access higher learning you had to enroll on the collegiate campus.

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Global Total Number of MOOCs (http://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/node/145506)

With the birth of the Internet, curriculums have progressed from proprietary toward being ubiquitously accessible. Topical knowledge can now be surfaced and queried in a matter of seconds. Full collegiate curriculums are being brought online and given away from free by groups like Coursera and Edx. Instructors no longer need to work in partnership with a university to monetize their knowledge- they can cheaply and independently produce ebooks or sell their lectures through Udemy, Fedora, and others.

As curricula progressed toward ubiquity, institutions began to develop and market byproducts of their core function as a knowledge center. Student housing, sports teams, grant opportunities, and research centers were all added, giving life to distinct campus cultures and communities.

This shift in marketing has forced institutions to drift from the focus of “how can we most effectively educate the student” to “how can we create the most attractive collegiate experience”. To a certain degree, the features birthed as byproducts have become the defining characteristics when comparing one university to another.

That brings us to today’s collegiate institutions- small cities with pools, luxury dorms, and seemingly professional athletic programs at the cost of $28,000 in student loan debt; all at the posited value of learning despite many of the most coveted curriculums being freely available online.

This is not to make equal the on campus and the online (MOOC format) learning experiences. There are both tangible and intangible benefits to the campus learning experience, but there needs to be a rethinking around what role the collegiate campus experience actually plays.

The influx of technology over the last four years has been a catalyst in driving the conversation around cost and outcomes, but the application of technology is still being limited to an optimization on the old way of doing things. The collegiate experience is still framed as sequential four-year, semester-based, experience that happens directly after high school.

What should be looked at now is how the collegiate campus experience might be redesigned in light of today’s tools to better play into the value it adds; the value of culture, community, and resource access.

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The campus of the future

At its best, learning is manifestation of curiosity. Campuses should be designed to enable students to explore their curiosities while equipping them with the necessary skills and frameworks to work on challenging problems after graduating. Instead of lecture halls, campuses should be design more closely to a coworking space, or at scale, the Googleplex. Campuses should provide the environment that fosters community and collaboration while enabling students to engage with the learning they’re curious about.

Instead of relying on on-campus faculty to administer curricula, colleges should provide mentors and coaches that guide students through curriculums, regardless of which institution may have generated the curriculum.

The institutions that can afford to attract the experts themselves should continue to do so, as Minerva is doing and the Ivy Leagues will continue to do. Those that can’t attract experts (the inherent majority) should start more heavily leveraging third-party curricula rather than producing second-tier courses designed internally.

Individual institutions can still imprint their cultural values and perspective on the curricula, but it will be through the mentors and coaches rather than instructors themselves.

Leveraging third-party curricula will also enable institutions to create more customized courses, pulling smaller course modules from multiple institutions to create their own unique course.

Eliminating classrooms, libraries, and research centers means colleges could create a much larger and leaner network of affiliated campuses. When content is no longer tied to location, students can seek regions and cities of interest and educational relevance. Imagine a college finance track that leverages online curricula while allowing students to spend time in New York, London, and Dubai. Students could maintain core curriculum access throughout their experience while also benefitting from regionally specific experiences.

The opportunity to leverage new tools in redefining the collegiate campus experience is massive. The financial opportunity to unbundle the university ‘stack’, eliminate cross-institutional redundancies, and rebundle is larger still. (Expect a sequel!). This essay has only scratched the surface.

The second phase of the education revolution is on the horizon, all the pieces are here, they just need to be put in the right order.

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