Are Colleges and Universities Ready for the Knowledge Economy?

There is some impressive research happening in colleges and university.

This week I learned about the importance of assistive devices that are enhancing independent living for seniors and persons with disabilities, how the knowledge and experience of presidents and vice presidents is being transitioned to the next generation, and how an awareness of issues and opportunities facing young adults in rural communities are better understood as the result of their voices being heard through an exhibit of the photographs they learned to produce. I saw how health care professionals are being better prepared as the result of simulated learning that provides realistic settings, equipment and situations that include actors and manikins that mimic human anatomy and physiology such as breathing, heartbeats, blinking, and a wide variety of symptoms that portray illnesses or injuries.  All these, as well as many other practical and meaningful forms of research, are taking place. 

And yet, as encouraging as this research was, I was also left wondering, and hoping, our colleges and universities are ready for the big changes being brought by the knowledge economy. Are they preparing for the impact of information technology, the interconnections of ideas, people, and organizations, and the constant innovation that will result?

As futurist Rick Smyre puts it, a transformational change in thinking is the result, but is also the cause, of change. The simplistic notion of cause-and-effect will no longer be enough to understand reality. Learning will emerge from the transformation of a somewhat static world to one based on continuous change

In essence, that means we will not only need a nimble and entrepreneurial educational system, it will also have to be one that helps students think systemically – in wholes, not parts, to see connections. This in turn will dictate a new way of thinking about how to evaluate any learning process. The emphasis will need to be placed on learning to connect ideas and see patterns rather than recalling content.

Futurists are also predicting that the idea of class time being separate from non class time will disappear. The era of hyper-connectivity will require most professionals to weave their careers and personal lives within a blended mosaic of activity.  As Gen X’ers and some of us home-office based Boomers are already demonstrating, work and leisure will be intertwined each day throughout the week.

In the very near future, new demands and social networking will drive more collaborative forms of learning. Generation X already uses technologies for working and socializing, so they are familiar with an approach to tasks that is less about competing and more about working as teams. There will be less of a need for a “sage on the stage” model of pedagogy, and more on teambuilding, collaboration, and learning together.

In addition to the “three R’s”, curriculum of the future will also need to incorporate interpersonal skills such as ethics, self-discipline, responsibility, media literacy, and community building. Education will need to incorporate more active learning styles such as group exercises, discussions, and other forms of experiential learning that will promote opportunities to reflect, synthesize, analyze content and deeper meaning, and develop plans for action.

On the college or university campus of tomorrow, classes won’t matter. The next generation of post-secondary students will be living wherever they want and taking many of their courses online. They will likely earn degrees that are accredited by international accrediting agencies as our world becomes increasingly flat.

Colleges and universities will also need to expand their thinking about their target audience. They can’t think of their market as being primarily young adults, as all of us need to become students and lifelong learners. They will need to be poised to support more local community learning perhaps by being the catalyst for building small and interconnected networks of people interested in transformative ideas and willing to play the role of early adopters. In doing so, colleges and universities can play a critical role in driving the collective impact of varied individuals, organizations, and businesses working together.

Ultimately, it really is going to take a village to cultivate the comprehensive and technical intelligence we’re going to need to address the growing complexity of the world in which we live.

Posted on 10-02-11


Great blog, Brenda! As the way people learn changes (as in more connected to technology, faster, multitasking) our institutions need to keep up. Sometimes I do wonder if ALL things need to change, though. Will we have age old traditions anymore? Maybe we don’t need to but I think I might miss some… I’m pretty nostalgic for a Gen Xer!

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  10/07/11  at  12:33 PM

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