Opportunities Arise As Education Evolves
Online Education A university course with 100,000 students. Sound crazy?
How about attending an online university and being able to create your own avatar so you can walk the halls of your virtual school and interact with your fellow students? Extreme examples, perhaps, but post-secondary education is changing in ways unimaginable a decade ago. Shifting demographics, huge advances in technology and the economy are contributors to this changing landscape. “This generation of new students has never lived without technology, so there is enormous pressure on institutions to change and adapt to this reality,” says Steven Murphy, Dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson. “Our students demand a different kind of education, one that is much more dynamic. It’s not just the sage on the stage anymore, where the professor lectures for hours.”
“This generation of new students has never lived without technology, so there is enormous pressure on institutions to change and adapt to this reality."
A time of transition
What this means is a transition away from the traditional way of learning to more of a hybrid model that blends theory with the practical. “Students today want to get their hands dirty at university, and professors will become more facilitator than expert,” Murphy adds.
With declining birthrates in Canada, resulting in fewer students, universities have been trying to fill seats, and are being forced like never before to differentiate themselves and demonstrate value to a more demanding student population.
David Large, the Dean of the Sandermoen School of Business at the University of Fredericton, a private, fully online school, has been in the working in the education world for the past two decades and cites the changing economy as reason students and institutions need to become more focused.
“When it comes to online learning we are just scratching the surface of what we can do. This is a really exciting time, because with online learning we can update content on a daily basis, and it’s less costly to produce than more traditional course materials.”
Career ready skills
“To complete globally, companies can no longer afford to take on new graduates and have them learn on the job for a year or two, as they once did. It’s very costly for someone not to provide value the day they walk in the door,” Large says. “I respect the role of the university for people to become informed about our world, speak intelligently and to not just see the world through YouTube and Twitter. We need to maintain that, but we also need to equip our students with the tools to be successful in the workforce.”
Education today is about lifelong learning. It’s likely most of us will participate in a number of post-secondary programs throughout our careers. Large muses that maybe we need to return to a three-year Bachelor’s program, so young people can still be exposed to a liberal arts education, without being excessively burdened by increasing tuition costs. Then students can transition into a practical field of study.
Born at the end of the 1990s, with the massive thrust of the Internet and broadband capacity, online learning is now one of the biggest trends in education. “When it comes to online learning we are just scratching the surface of what we can do,” says Large. “This is a really exciting time, because with online learning we can update content on a daily basis, and it’s less costly to produce than more traditional course materials.”
"With advances in technology and a demanding economy, the education system will continue to evolve. It is those that can easily adapt—both students and higher learning institutions alike—that will be successful."
A recent development across Ontario’s community colleges is that fewer students are entering college directly from secondary school. A 2013 Ontario Colleges’ environmental scan reports that less than 35% of students are enrolling directly from high school, down from more than 40% a decade ago. “We are seeing a lot of students coming into our college with a university degree. They recognize the benefits of a university education combined with the applied, hands-on learning that colleges offer.” says Maureen Piercy, President of Belleville’s Loyalist College.
With advances in technology and a demanding economy, the education system will continue to evolve. It is those that can easily adapt—both students and higher learning institutions alike—that will be successful.