Talent Development and Personalization Central to Long-Term Institutional Success
Campuses are hotbeds of change, yet the dominant institutional model for higher education in the United States has held steady for a century. This now-traditional model grew out of innovation at Johns Hopkins, Chicago and Harvard in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Everyone else spent the next 100 years cloning and scaling that approach despite enormous changes in the types of students arriving on American campuses.
The steady state of higher education is coming to an end. It doesn’t matter if the current challenges of demography, the economy and changing public perception result in closing scores or hundreds of institutions or not. In 25 years, almost all colleges and universities will look quite different from the “one size fits all” model of today.
This change will sweep across all elements of the institutional model—its learning environment, student relationship, partnerships, finances and capabilities. Three key trends will shape that broad landscape of change.
A Focus on Talent
Talent development will increasingly become the focus of higher education. For a long time, knowledge ruled the roost. Skills came along more recently. Talent is a better substantive description of what a college should be focused on developing in its students. Talent is also a far better brand to effectively communicate the high value proposition higher education offers.
Talent is what emerges from the intentional intersection of knowledge and skills. Talent includes, but goes far beyond, career goals. Jesuit colleges (including my alma mater, Georgetown) use the Latin term cura personalis to describe their mission to care for the whole person. Most colleges espouse something similar without any religious overtone. However, it’s not clear how many colleges actually deliver on this broader notion of personal development.
The focus on talent may lead with the capabilities that graduates need to succeed in their careers. The capabilities that undergird talent are a more generalized, but also more powerful, set of attributes than the specific knowledge or skills in vogue today. Our overarching talents enable us to navigate complexity and dive deeply into new fields and technologies. Graduates are equipped to assemble the toolkit needed at any stage of our adult lives to solve the problems we choose to place at the top of our priority list.
Expanding Learning through Simulation
A few higher education programs and faculty have used simulation for some time to create engaging learning environments. Tour any college with a nursing program and it’s likely that they will want to show off their sim lab where students can practice on animatronic “patients” before moving on to the real thing. It will take a bit more effort to find them, but some humanities courses use role playing games to dramatically increase student participation (read Minds on Fire to learn more about Barnard’s Reacting to the Past and other faculty networks).
Virtual and augmented reality technology can lower the cost and broaden the reach of these learning techniques in ways that are only just emerging. Just this month, a teaching hospital in London broadcast open heart surgery in virtual reality to an audience of medical students and others around the world. New VR applications already allow students to interact with a “beating” heart.
Faculty and instructional designers can incorporate game strategy in these new visual and experiential environments to reach even more disciplines with low-risk, low-cost role-playing activities. This could dramatically change not only occupational programs, but also economics, business, psychology and many other fields. University-based experimentation is growing at networks such as Games+Learning+Society at the University of Wisconsin, the CUNY Games Network, and the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC which has also incorporated the study of serious games into a master’s program in computer science.
A Diversifying Ecosystem
For most Americans, the higher education environment is fairly simple. They go to college in the same city or metro region where they live. Most high school seniors and returning adults are choosing from a very limited number of local community colleges, a regional public university and one or two private institutions.
This local market for education will evolve into a more complex educational ecosystem as more players enter the market. This is not just a matter of existing institutions expanding their geographic reach with digital tools. Completely new players will build a more diverse educational ecosystem without becoming academic institutions.
The local college-going population of diverse, first-generation and generally lower-income students are likely to have been in a relationship with a charter high school, youth development group or other community-based nonprofit. These organizations know these students and many are better equipped to support their academic path than any college campus can.
These new players will partner with higher education institutions anywhere. This could include local colleges but may be more likely to be innovative institutions elsewhere. The model is already being developed by front-line innovators such as Match Beyond in Boston, PelotonU in Austin and Our Piece of the Pie in Hartford in partnership with SNHU’s College for America.
The Lasting Impact of These Trends
Colleges that can focus on talent development, expand experiential learning through simulation and partner with other sectors that share their interest in student success will do well in the turbulent years ahead. Those that do not may find new competitors providing a better experience and value for students that used to be the “bread and butter” of their enrollment.
Author Perspective: Analyst