The Future of Education: 10 Trends To Watch


It is that time of the year when we tend to pause, reflect, and look forward. What have we achieved in the year just passed? What are the highlights of culture, business, technology, and trends that we have observed around us?

For me, the most exciting and positive movement at present is in the domain of technology impacting education. And it is an impact that is coming from many different directions.

Let’s explore them in further detail.

Cost of Higher Education

The cost of higher education is high, and when coupled with youth unemployment and student debt, it has become a serious issue that is finally getting a great deal of attention this year. It is causing higher ed institutions to experiment, consider alternative models, explore new ideas. Education has been a rather slow-to-change field. This year, however, I think the pace of change has picked up, and most likely, this trend is driven by fear. While the top institutions with big brands can justify their premium pricing, most others cannot. Tremendous amounts of quality educational content is available online for free, or at reasonable prices. Unless the degree comes with a serious branded network, is it worthwhile to pay so much? The question, I am sure, will be hotly debated over the rest of this decade, and changes will come.

Question Mark Around Liberal Arts Education

The jobs are mostly in the STEM fields. Then why would anyone pay $30K a year or more for four years to study the humanities? What is the justification for existence of the liberal arts colleges if they cannot translate that education into lucrative professional careers? This is the question plaguing the leaders in that field. Personally, I am a huge believer in liberal arts education. However, I also believe that liberal arts should be the arts that liberate. Today, those are technology and entrepreneurship. Thus, I would like to see the liberal arts colleges make it compulsory for students to study programming and entrepreneurship as parts of their degree requirement. We’re not there yet, but by 2020, I hope, we get there.

Evolution of Engineering Education

Most engineering schools are hotbeds of experimentation with MOOCs and other online education possibilities. EdX, the mother of all MOOCs, came out of a collaboration between Harvard and MIT, and is run by MIT’s Anant Agarwal. There is, however, concern around intellectual property, and many deans are not as keen to give out their jewels for free. My take on the subject is that Free is a dangerous path. Creating and delivering value isn’t free. Thus, consuming value should also not be free. Is education a public good? To an extent. But with governments neck-deep in debt, it is unclear how such models will be sustained at scale. Nonetheless, experimenting with scalable modes of delivering world-class education to students worldwide is worthwhile. Whatever comes out of this will likely, also, be worthwhile. The other observation I have is that many of the deans of engineering schools are trying to figure out how to also train their entire body of engineering students with entrepreneurship education. They don’t have adequate budgets yet, but again, with smart use of virtual methods, it is doable. I would like to see, by 2020, every single engineering student in the world also trained in entrepreneurship. The pace of progress for humanity will accelerate tremendously. It is engineers, not MBAs, who know best how to build things. That includes new companies.

Demand for Community Colleges and Vocational Education

At the face of huge global youth unemployment numbers, the country that has drawn attention as a successful model is Germany. They do vocational training well. Most other countries don’t. America has an excellent network of community colleges through which really great quality vocational training can be delivered. However, the quality of the community colleges and their connections into the employers is quite poor. There’s a lot of work to be done here, but through a combination of virtual learnings methods and internships, the gap can be bridged. The model, also, needs to be replicated globally.

Changes in K-12 Education

Salman Khan has made some dent in K-12, and Khan Academy’s attempts at redirecting schools from the ‘sage on the stage’ model to the ‘guide on the side’ is a seminal experiment. Instead of not-very-qualified teachers trying to create course content, if the lectures are standardized and delivered via online video, with teachers guiding students through exercises in class, the quality of education may significantly improve. It’s early. But, it is an extremely promising direction. In general, rich media content available widely for educational purposes is awesome. The film ‘Lincoln’ is far more engaging to teach history with than a dry textbook.

Broadband Penetration

Today, the limiting factor for online education is broadband penetration. By 2020, this will change dramatically. Digital ’s impact on society will change alongside it.

Changing Dynamics of Media Consumption

The availability of vast amounts of media content—not only on smartphones and tablets, but also on television—is drastically changing how people consume media. Instead of TV being time-bound, today, it is becoming largely on-demand. To the extent this trend accelerates, education and entertainment are going to intersect in ways that we haven’t seen yet. I see huge potential.

Education Businesses

For-profit colleges get a lot of flack. They charge big tuition fees, and don’t deliver on the employability metric. I think their real potential is as providers of great digital programs and materials that can help existing institutions scale their own delivery capabilities at reasonable prices. If community colleges started adopting more of these proven digital learning methods and casting their faculty as ‘guides on side’, the results could be … Next Page »

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Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. From 2008 to 2010, Mitra was a columnist for Forbes. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Follow @sramana

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One response to “The Future of Education: 10 Trends To Watch”

  1. shesaidsomething says:

    I am not sure if Ms. Mitra is an educator, professor or otherwise, but I see her faith in “digital learning” to be unfounded. I could record my lectures and they would still be okay but this would not be teaching. This would be a one-fit approach to education (which contradicts the promise of individual learning through technology). Professional development makes better teachers and teaching makes better teachers. Videos are no substitute to being in a smaller class with an instructor.