Education Leaders Forecast the Future of Higher Education

Forecasting the future of anything is like playing a game of chance. What’s coming next is hard to picture. However, the future of higher education closely follows the development and expansion of technology. According to higher education experts, technology will be a major influence. Think about the use of technology in our daily lives:
Look back 20 years: Only 3.67 percent of people used mobile phone service; the internet was just getting started and had about 119 million users.
Look at the present: It’s a different world. At the end of 2017 there were 2.43 billion smartphone users, and by 2022 there will be 2.87 billion. There are over 3.49 billion internet users and half of the web traffic comes from mobile devices.
Look ahead: World connections via the web are rapidly increasing, and communication will be increasingly mobile. By the end of 2017, 44 percent of the world had a smartphone and by 2022, 59 percent will own one.
Look ahead 20 years: In 2037 one of the most important ways technology will affect our lives is to help solve student access and attainment issues, says Global Shapers, a Forum of young people between ages 20 and 30 who work to solve the world’s most pressing challenges in an initiative backed by the World Economic Forum. Almost 80 percents of the student they surveyed reported taking an online course.

And it looks like technology will shape the future of higher education, with online courses and greater connectivity, according to Future Forward: The Next Twenty years of Higher Education report from Blackboard. Learning will be everywhere, highly accessible through technology, and important to everyone. Higher education institutions will use technology along with creative approaches to attainment to better serve their students. “Learning has never been about only one time and place; it’s about the lifecycle of the learner from K-12 to post-secondary and professional life,” says Katie Blot Chief Strategy Officer of Blackboard Inc.

Blackboard asked higher education thought leaders to give their ideas about what the future of higher education will look like.


For a couple leaders, technology is at the heart of shaping the future of higher education into something for everyone, all the time.

For Susan Aldridge, PhD, President Drexel University Online, technology and continuous education are complementary. She says that learners need access to flexible education in a networked world and that university will become “virtual gateways to continuous education and collaboration, through which learner of all ages and stages in life may move in and out at different times, from different locations, and for different purposes – to support the lifelong learning needs of today’s workforce.”

Chris Jennings, M.P.S. Instructional Lead Google Analytics Edu, thinks that online education will have a transformative effect on the world. “We are essentially, democratizing education, and enabling those who are sufficiently motivated to education themselves with a virtual community of collaborators for support. For me, this is truly phenomenal. It has the potential to empower millions of people throughout the world.”


Higher education will no doubt evolve just as the workplace, technology, every aspect of daily living has. People will be able to capitalize on their experience and prior knowledge as they pursue higher education.

ERIN SMITH, PH.D. Executive Director, Online Experiential Learning Northeastern University believes education will evolve to fit into people’s busy lives. She says, “I think it’s going to be competency-based and content will come in more bite-size chunks of time. I also think that idea of skills and competency is what’s going to be the major organizing principle around how we structure our classroom experience.”

Pam Quinn EDD, provost, LeCroy Center Dallas County Community College District says “Adaptive competency-based education will allow students to move quickly through content they already know…It’s no longer the world where some are going to need an education and others won’t. Everybody needs some higher education. If we want strong communities in progressive states in a competitive country, we’re going to have to bring everybody along.”

And with competency-based standards, what students know and can do will be easily quantified. Myk Garn, PhD Assistant Chancellor for New Learning Models, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia says, “What excites me about competency-based education is it really begins, for the first time, to explicitly describe and list the competencies, content, activities.


The future of higher education will involve a human connection along with technology says Joseph E. Aoun, President Northeastern University. He explains that “humanics” is the “purposeful integration of technical literacies, such as coding and data analytics, with uniquely human literacies, such as creativity, entrepreneurship, ethics, cultural agility and the ability to work with others. And every student should be culturally agile, able to communicate across boundaries, and to think ethically. By integrating technology, data and humanities, we can help students become robot-proof.”


ROBERT HANSEN, PH.D. Chief Executive Officer University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) believes that online education is the most important thing that has happened in recent years, and it will have a profound impact on the future of higher educaiton. “It’s the most important development because it profoundly expanded access to higher education, not only bridging distance but time. It has changed the nature of who is going to college and how they get educated. That’s such an exciting development because instead of just thinking that from 18 to 22 you go to college, now everybody has a chance for lifelong learning. I think that’s really, really exciting.”