Issues in the reform of higher ed

Last year I wrote extensively here about educational reform, the reinvention of higher ed and college level school work. Since that time, I've continued to read widely, deepen my understanding and accumulate more ideas. It's time I return to sharing my reflections in written form. Here's a laundry list of issues that I think need to be addressed to successfully provide our societies with higher quality, post-secondary educations at a much lower cost. I'll cover each of these in more detail in the coming weeks.

  1. Anticipating a steep decline in reading comprehension - Until recently, our brains could handle both the cognitive load of intense reading and physical activities. The advent of immersion in multimedia and mobile communications preempts reading for meaning or for extended periods of time. (see Declines in reading comprehension)
  2. Changing the economics of paying attention - When we focus on written material, we shut out distractions to pay close enough attention. Getting paid so much attention by friends, followers and subscribers via social networking platforms has changed what seems to be an equitable amount of paying attention to educators, assignments and class participation. (see Getting paid personal attention)
  3. Next generation migrations to online delivery - First generation online degree programs continue to cover the required material just like owners of those new horseless carriages thought they needed a buggy whip to get down the road.  (see Getting expertise working in our favor)
  4. Calling a halt to reform efforts - Academics can research attempts at reform, write insightful books about the value of college educations and talk about reform extensively, but they cannot change the ground they're standing on with conviction. (see Getting higher ed turned around)
  5. The revolution already happened - Any change in technology revises how we see ourselves, share our experiences and relate to our milieu. Those that have gone digital, mobile and shorthand are coming from a very different place that sets up a failure to communicate and steep challenge to cultivate rapport with them. (see Culturally electrified to reciprocate)
  6. Updating the labor model - Tuition an fees are soaring out of sight, in part, due to the ways teaching and learning happen. The way all the school work gets done could follow the way we're getting other things done by crowdsourcing and other new production models once the outputs, credentials and comparisons get brought up to date. (see School work without schooling)
  7. Revising job designs - Most teaching and administrative jobs in academia are so poorly designed they inadvertently reward retaliation, stagnation, indifference and internal politics. Changes is job design will transform professional conduct and the resulting experiences for those on the receiving end. (see Providing good jobs in academia)
  8. Conforming to brain specs - Stress, sleep deprivation and physical inactivity dismantle brain functions, immune responses and sociability. Educational experiences designed for personal functionality will support the human need for anxiety relief, sleep and physical activity. (see How colleges are bad for our brains)
  9. Resolving emotional baggage - Most ineptitude, ineffectiveness and neglect impacting the panorama of students' problems result from internalized negative experiences on both sides of each conflict. Systems that resolve past history will produce greater efficacy, effectiveness and attentiveness among everyone involved. (see Colleges need baggage handling systems)
  10. Building a different foundation - Higher ed has a long tradition of building an academic foundation as if its expertise is scarce, authorities are essential filters and connections between books are missing. A new foundation will tell a very different story about abundance, surplus, access and freedom. (see Replacing weak foundations)
  11. Preempting snark attacks - Most college live or captured  lectures are asking for trouble from students' raised expectations about engagement, interaction and social production of results. Presentations designed to get on their wavelength will turn the tables on conventional attempts to be informative, authoritative and superior. (see Asking for snarky students)
  12. Serving the dropouts first - The majority of entering freshman walk out before graduating on a costly experience that fails to deliver value at a fair price. Their unmet needs define a disruptive value proposition and an uncontested space across the chasm from the hype about social media. (see So many dropouts - so little time)
  13. Remodeling the dashboard - Institutions of higher ed monitor their college rankings, enrollment levels, alumni donations, building programs and bottom line as if they are in competition with other universities, televised sports and subsidized social programs.  The upgraded dashboard will monitor breakdowns in learning, cooperation and other dimensions of collaborative efforts. (see Disconnected dashboards create mayhem)
  14. Giving adolescents reputations - Residential colleges cope with the acting out of teens as if it takes time to outgrow immaturity slowly. Reputation economies create people being on their best behavior at any age by giving them significant power that impacts others and generates immediate, personal feedback. (see Giving college students reputations)
  15. Prepared for the next economy - Academic research studies what already exists and suffers from a lag effect when adapting to turbulent changes. Visionary enterprises foresee what's emerging and prepares its participants for those eventualities before they become tangible artifacts for empirical research. (see Changing economic fundamentals)
Institutions of higher ed are phenomenally complex systems. There are no easy answers and simple solutions to questions of educational reform. Each of these issues runs deep on its own and interconnects with many of the others. I intend to bring some of my usual clarity and creativity to the ongoing conversations about reforming higher ed.


  1. There is so much here, it is hard to know where to begin. However, let me just address the first issue. I don't agree that reading comprehension, per se, will decline. Rather, the way in which people interact with written text will change. All of my daughter's texts are online. This requires a different way of reading and she is able to link ideas together, identifying those parts of the text that are relevant, linking it to other ideas, storing it in different aps that helps her to retrieve it when needed and/or to create new ideas from the reading. The traditional way of reading, underlining the important parts and then spitting back content when asked will not be useful for her as she can find that information externally. Understanding what she is reading, pulling information from multiple sources, and linking those ideas into something that then becomes her own understanding (critical thinking and reading) is a skill she is learning, but has a lot of trouble doing at the age of 15 (developmentally).

  2. Thanks for these thoughts Virginia. I agree with you that some people will interact with text differently, rather than lose their ability to comprehend dense displays of printed words. However, I expect this will not be the norm or the future majority. I'm responding to the increasing number of students reading below grade level, needing remediation when entering college and getting diagnosed with learning disabilities. It won't be for their lack of trying to read, pressure to become print literate or opportunities to explore writing in print. It will be because their brains have adapted to other intense, immersive, sensory experiences which pre-empts their use of the massive amount of cognitive resources involved in decoding printed letters, sequences and references to spoken words, prior to making those rich associations you described. I'm suggesting that brains that get very resourceful at handling multimedia immersion will lose the cognitive resources for reading comprehension. This is the first time in history where the youth has been given something more intense than printed words to respond to quickly and resourcefully. Past experience with humans handing sophisticated weapons, cars, radios or televisions provide no accurate prediction of the impact on reading comprehension of the latest mobile and online involvements.