• Rethinking Higher Education

    Peter Smith's take on opportunity and access in higher education, the unmet challenges that remain, and the future that lies ahead for those willing to tackle it.

Educational Opportunity in the Age of Disruption

In the debut of a new blog, Peter Smith explores the Americans who have largely been left out of postsecondary education's remarkable past, and how that can change going forward.

October 23, 2019
 

Since the publication of my book, Free-Range Learning in the Digital Age: The Emerging Revolution in College, Career, and Education, in mid-2018, and after a year of listening, learning and reflecting, I would like to explore and look at the future of learning and work with refreshed eyes and new understandings. I am writing not as a critic but as a friend and longtime observer of higher education, learners, learning and opportunity.

I have, however, been fundamentally changed by the book and its aftermath. Looking past American postsecondary education’s amazing achievements, I now want to focus on those people who have not benefited, those who have remained marginalized and underserved, and to look for ways that disruption in the education and work space can be harnessed to bring them opportunities that have, heretofore, been beyond their reach.

That will be the theme running throughout this series. Disruption of the campus-based model brings with it the potential to fundamentally reframe education and employment opportunity. The development of “opportunity pathways” through higher education to good jobs has been very successful in the years since the GI Bill was passed. A majority of Americans, however, are still denied the higher education opportunity by campus models, traditions and values coupled with broader societal norms. For them, the higher education opportunity pathway was, in fact, an opportunity monopoly that operated beyond their reach.

With that in mind, there are five distinct topic areas that I want to address:

  • First, I want to examine how we got to where we currently are regarding the role of higher education and its contributions to opportunity and work. In these blog posts I will discuss the stages of development that higher education, as a driver of opportunity, has gone through since the passage of the GI Bill and where we are, roughly, in 2019.
  • Second, I want to discuss some of the essential lessons we can learn from Clayton Christiansen’s theory and examples of disruption. Much has been written, and more said, about Christiansen’s theory. I believe that Christiansen’s analysis contains two to three critical lessons that, if we harness their power, can reframe the education-opportunity debate.
  • Third, I want to evaluate the current state of postsecondary education and lifelong learning as the core opportunity driver in America. We have had notable successes. But there is much work left to be done. I will describe the hidden social and economic costs of our current “opportunity structure” in higher education. Yes, it may be the best ever, but is it the best it can be?
  • Fourth, turning to the solution side of the coin, I will discuss how disruption can add value to the opportunity proposition and redefine great teaching and learning in the process.
  • Finally, I will present examples of new practices and new knowledge that are contributing to the redefinition of opportunity through disruption. There are myriad new services, practices and applications, all technologically enhanced and data driven. Using current examples, I will describe how some of those innovations, riding the crest of the disruption wave, can change the world of learning and work opportunity for the better.

As I write, this seems like a tall, indeed daunting, order. And these will be blog posts, not academic articles or whole books. This is my effort to make sense out of where we are and where we need to go. I hope it will be a conversation that you will join as it unfolds.

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