5 Trends Guiding Future 'Changemaker Universities'

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Source: Ashoka

Innovators in education, those leading universities and those working at the fringe to disrupt them, have been debating the future of higher education. That future was at the heart of discussion at the at the 2013 Ashoka U Exchange at the University of San Diego, which featured presidents and provosts from four countries representing a dozen diverse universities.

Five broad themes are expected to be relevant to future entrepreneurship education models and university curricula: open systems with continuous access, blended boundaries, human connectivity, integrated wholeness, and a focus on solutions.

What follows is a synthesis and further reflection on what we can expect from the universities of tomorrow.

Open Systems with Continuous Access
Future educational models will focus on providing both quality and scalability of learning resources by adopting open systems designs. Universities will increasingly become more accessible to underserved students both locally and globally. Universities will also become more flexible and agile in allowing students to leave and re-enter the system, and there will be the same intentionality placed on attracting students to return to school as there is on attracting first-time students.

Learning will incorporate new tracking mechanisms that document educational outcomes throughout individuals’ lifetimes from pre-school to workforce and beyond.

Blended Boundaries
Tomorrow’s education system will recognize and respect that our human endeavors and life stages have moved from discrete to blended. Play-learn-work are still segmented activities, but not for much longer. Not only will we increasingly be learning while playing and working, we also will conceptualize less and less that our life span is segmented into four segments: play (childhood), learn (childhood to adult), work (adult), and play (retirement).

Universities have focused the largest portion of their educational resources on the learning phase from childhood to adulthood. However, with longer life spans and improved health outcomes, universities are increasingly seeing a demand for education preparation for a second phase of work, or the “encore years.” Career and work choices at this time are likely to be less driven by livelihood factors and more likely to be driven by passion and perceived impact. Thus, there is a large and growing interest in “encore” careers in the social sector.

Today, older college students stand out like a streaker on campus, but future changemaker educational models will find ways to tap into and connect the rich, real-world experiences of encore learners with the creativity and spirit of younger learners. Universities will increasingly become age-free as they develop and facilitate peer-to-peer learning and teaching across generations.

Human Connectivity
Embracing technological advances will not devalue, but rather redefine the human value component of learning and teaching. Students often learn most from teaching their fellow students. The old adage, “The best way to learn something is to teach it,” remains true. In a world where humans across the planet are increasingly connected to each other through technology, peer-to-peer learning takes on an added dimension of scalability and potentially effective crowd-based learning.

The future role of the professor in the changemaker university classroom setting may increasingly revert back to the personal tutor and mentor roles of the earliest university professors. More knowledge dissemination will effectively occur outside the classroom, and a greater degree of knowledge integration and personalized tutoring likely will occur within the classroom.

Integrated Wholeness
While technology and open access can provide a proliferation of discrete educational opportunities, the changemaker university of the future will play a role in designing and providing the meaning and purpose to the education experience. This will occur by ensuring that individual skills like leadership and empathy, and the realignment of values from profits or products to people, are integrated into curricular and experiential learning opportunities.

Students in the universities of tomorrow will learn about the world by investigating and analyzing solutions to challenges, rather than relying on a problem-based approach to learning. There will be an effort to recognize patterns and what distinguishes sustainable solutions from the hype behind short-term “Band-Aids.” Educators will focus on describing, categorizing, and, where possible, generalizing sustainable solutions. There will be a focus on systematically capturing and documenting the state-of-the-art in global innovation, while preparing students to be global thinkers and problem solvers.

Becoming a changemaker university which effectively leverages technology and human connectivity, open systems and access, and peer-to-peer and intergenerational learning will not be easy. It will require human creativity and collaboration, openness to new models of design, and agile processes and systems. The payoff, however, will be the creation of many future generations of innovators and an education for which it will be easy to justify the price of admission.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.