by MARTIN BETTS
We do have a way of dressing things up in academia don’t we? Why use one word when 20 will do. And why use short words that everyone understands, when we can jazz it up with complexity, precision, obscurity, and a code that sets us apart. It means that only people like us, can understand people like us. We are well intentioned people. And we are all trying to look after everyone’s educational needs.
Trouble is when you start talking like that, you tend to act like that. So, we combine our knowledge into complex constructs. They allow us to be precise. It helps us communicate with each other, more than it does with the world outside. It does lead to great research and innovation and must continue to do so. We need that more than ever right now.
But do we make our courses, and programmes of learning, relate too much to the depth of our understanding through our research? Do they then become deep and impenetrable, rather than bite-size and digestible? It doesn’t have to be like this.
Imagine the brave new world of learning where our educational health and advancement is paramount. Where knowledge is made simple. Where we sign up to personalised learning experiences. Where highly skilled learning facilitators use technology platforms to search for, distil and represent world-class knowledge, wherever it resides. They help us learn, in the ways that we prefer to learn. They allow us to gain knowledge, and apply it to our on-going and continuous needs for skills in our workplace, at the stages of our career where we need it.
We realise we need it in response to having our own abilities in our workplace and careers assessed for us. In the same way that our financial and physical fitness is assessable through health checks and ready reckoners. We push beyond the current indicators of fitness for purpose, university rankings or reactions to marketing campaigns. We find the means of developing ourselves, that the market has determined to be best in class. We use our understanding of our preferences, to access it in ways that are best for us.
Spotify does it for our music. YouTube does it for our visual entertainment. Airbnb used to do it for our travel accommodation when we were allowed to travel. Uber does it when we need to go somewhere we are allowed to go to. There are myriad ways of finding out what to eat, where to eat it, and what others thought it tasted like, and whether the staff were friendly. And we stopped going to other people’s buildings, at times that suited them, to buy shoes, clothes or books, long before a pandemic came along. We’ve now had all of that confirmed as being crazy, in the great disruption of 2020.
How exciting is education and learning going to be? When we no longer have to visit a campus, at times imposed on us, for courses offered for 30 weeks of the year, and that take 3 years or more. When courses don’t include all sorts of things we don’t want to study, delivered in ways that don’t suit us, leading to qualifications that are increasingly irrelevant. Where programmes aren’t delivered by staff required to be all-rounders of teaching, research and service. Goodbye 40:40:20.
Where our teachers are no longer managed ever more distantly, by administrators, increasingly working on compliance, for over-regulators that are withdrawing from being funders. After all, we will pay for our exciting education and learning of the future. Just like we pay for it now. But we will start to demand much better value for money. As we have for everything else.
Our staff of the future might grapple with being part of the gig economy. With its risks of short-term fluctuations in work. They will be measured and valued on the experiences they give students. And the skill in their provision of educational well-being. Not measured by how many times they have published research in papers in journals read by some, and cited by fewer. They might be ever more like our casual staff of the present. But at least the value they generate from customers will be directed to the delivery of service, at times when customers want it, using technology platforms that make it easier to access. The taxis we used to take, came with a uniform, a licence, and an extensive infrastructure of head office functions. Did they see Uber coming?
The reason for the coming disruption to higher education is actually very simple, scholars. People need to learn what they need to learn, and want to, in a way that suits them, at their pace, in places and times that are convenient. We shouldn’t over complicate it. It is going to be fun, exciting and different. Let’s get on with it, and keep it simple. We better hurry, just look at what Google launched recently. And why they did. And how much it costs.
Professor Martin Betts is a strategic consultant to the higher education sector. He is the former DVC Engagement at Griffith University and led the Science and Engineering Faculty at QUT for 11 years.