In their article in the Educause Review, Data, Technology, and the Great Unbundling of Higher Education, Ryan Craig and Allison Williams suggest that higher education could increase student success and workforce preparedness by adopting some of the practices of leading technology companies. Craig and Williams outline the idea that today’s learner is in desperate need of a higher education experience that goes beyond the course catalog, as follows:
Full-stack providers that hope to achieve the higher education equivalent of Apple's or Uber's success will have to find a way to do three fundamental things: (1) develop and deliver specific high-quality educational experiences that produce graduates with capabilities that specific employers desperately want; (2) work with students to solve financing problems; and (3) connect students with employers during and following the educational experience and make sure students get a job.
Craig and Williams follow up with the example of the success of bootcamp programs. We realize these types of programs are not what every learner is looking for in their higher ed experience, especially if they pursue degrees in liberal arts and humanities (which research shows are worthwhile investments). Nonetheless, Craig and Williams outline the following outcomes-focused approach, which can be applied to teaching all types of disciplines:
Traditional program design is based on a system of credit hour inputs rather than outcomes...A simpler, better system would be reverse-engineered by starting with student outcomes, then moving to the assessments that prove that the outcomes have been achieved, and only then turning to the question of what curricula best prepare students for the assessments. Fortunately, technology allows higher education to make this shift.
Craig and Williams also illustrate how bundling of the entire higher ed experience does not create the best ROI for many of today’s learners:
Bundling has been central to the higher education business model for centuries. Colleges and universities combine content and a wide range of products and services into a single package, for which they charge "tuition and fees." Tuition and fees cover everything from remedial coursework to elective courses to advanced courses in a chosen major and, extending far beyond the academic program... As a result, when students pay for a degree, they are also buying products and services related to real estate, dining, sports, and research. As Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, asks: "Universities are responsible for admissions, research, facilities management, housing, health care, credentialing, food service, athletic facilities, career guidance and placement, and much more. Which of these items should be at the core of a university and add value to that experience?"
It's a good question, because although these items don't add time-to-credential, as the academic program bundle does, they add to the cost, which has the same effect on return on investment.
To change the bundling of the university experience is feasible but will take time. For now, we (instructors, institutions, content and platform providers) have the option and tools to unbundle courses, or to make courses that are student-centered. What do we mean by unbundling the course?
- Ensuring that the course blueprint is based on a measurable set of student learning outcomes (or competencies).
- Creating assessments that enable the student to demonstrate mastery of the clear learning outcomes. Providing learning activities that support mastery of the content.
- Enabling students to learn by doing, learn from each other, and interact with the instructor to promote deeper learning rather than regurgitation. The goal is transferability--the ability for the learner to transfer the learning to new contexts.
- Giving students ability to direct their learning and personalize the pathway.
- Micro-credentialing so that students can build a portfolio of outcomes.
These tactics of unbundling are proven, research-based strategies for teaching and learning. While this new approach might seem overwhelming to some, many instructors are implementing such unbundling iteratively, from term to term. The instructors in our Engaged Learning Community are experimenting with their course design, development and delivery and using these strategies to promote deeper learning, and yes unbundling.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you been considering new ways to develop your course? We’d love to hear from you.