Four factors are rapidly taking us beyond the tipping point for major change in postsecondary education: advances in understanding how people learn; transformative technologies; a shift in demand for new learning options; and rising costs for the current bricks and mortar model.
What is at play here is similar to the upheaval we’ve seen in the book, music and video industries. Technologies are driving dramatic new ways of enjoying these creative materials. The winners are almost everyone: There is massive access now to the very best works of art. But with the new forms of access come new forces of change, and pressure for the creators of these materials to rapidly adapt to new forms of content created in different ways and by almost anyone.
The analogy is imperfect, however. Education is not a product to be passively consumed. Just as people still want to attend a concert, go to a high-quality bookstore, or prefer to see a hockey game in person rather than on TV, there will still be a place for physical classrooms and the exciting face-to-face experiences of learning.
However, the factors mentioned above are pushing us to adopt more effective teaching methods like “flipped” classrooms, where students review material online, and spend valuable class time in discussion and analysis. They are pushing us to make more use of blended learning, which involves a varied mix of technologies outside and inside class time. And they are pushing us to offer more high quality fully online programs. All together these represent an approach often called flexible learning.
The challenge will be managing this profound change. Professors are not dispensers of information. They are guides through the growing vastness of information – provokers of critical thought and analysis, facilitators and mentors who can effectively channel discussion so that the learning becomes a personal and a shared effort.
For those who are passionate about education, the possibilities of change outweigh the anxieties. After leading UBC’s first MOOC on game theory, a course that attracted 130,000 learners, Prof. Kevin Leyton-Brown, an associate professor of computer science, enthused that he had four times as many Canadians in his course than he had taught in 10 years as professor.
Seven years ago Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman chose UBC to host his initiative to enhance undergraduate science education by building on research in pedagogy and brain science. Over the past ten years, UBC has rebuilt its medical faculty to double the number of students through an innovative distributed education model, using technology to train doctors at sites across British Columbia.
We don’t know yet what the future holds, but I invite universities across our country to join with us to embrace the challenge to develop innovative learning opportunities. Together we can unleash a new level of creativity and potential for Canadians.
This post was adapted from an opinion piece that appeared in the Globe and Mail. To read the full piece, click here.
Video: Flexible Learning
In part one of a two-part video, UBC’s Provost, Senior Advisor for Teaching and Learning, and I discuss how technology can be used in learning environments, and where UBC is heading.
In part two, we discuss how new learning technologies can be used to improve the student experience and what steps UBC is taking.