10 Trends Transforming HigherEd

The number of post-secondary students taking online courses–probably toping 7 million– continues to grow but at a slowing pace. Deans find online learning strategically important (71%) but less than a third of faculty agree.

More important than trends inside formal education is the exploding informal post-secondary landscape.  Following are 12 trends that signal plunging enrollments for some third tier institutions and growing enrollments for new options.

1.Expanded online learning offerings from traditional institutions; 90% of public institutions offer some online offerings but growth slowed to 4%. Some are premium programs developed with a partner like 2U.

2.Massively open online courses (MOOC) exploded in 2012. They continue to surface and support global talent but most providers pivoted to job training in 2014.

3.The steady rise of very low cost DIY general ed alternatives including StraighterLine, Propero, UniversityNow and free CLEP prep courses.

4.Rapid growth of informal online learning markets like Skillsoft and Udemy and learn-to-code sites like Bloc and CodeAcademy.

5.Expanding open education resources (OER) including Saylor.org, CK12, NROC, and Khan Academy.

6.Rapid growth in blended learning—incorporating online learning, social learning, and flipped classroom strategies into existing offerings. New platforms including Canvas and Echo360 are gaining adoption.

7.Innovations in adaptive learning—combining adaptive assessment and tailored instruction particularly in developmental math including (e.g., ALEKS and Knewton)

8.High rates of unemployment making more expensive degrees less valuable in many job categories.

9.Alternative market signaling strategies including badging, certification, portfolio, and references are augmenting or replacing degrees in some job categories.

10.Competition is coming from new directions with more online course options, credit opportunities, and the unbundling of post-secondary services.

For professional schools–particularly engineering and medicine–where there is clearly more opportunity for online learning, but strong opportunity for differentiation with hands-on and apprentice-based learning. The most important long term opportunity is building a lifelong learning relationship with professionals.

Innovation.  There are five dimensions of innovation and potential differentiation:

  • Delivery: blended (mix of online and onsite delivery) and online (instructor at a distance)
  • Pedagogy: problem and project based; applied and hand-on learning; on the job training and apprenticeships.
  • Organization: integrated (ASU is a partial example).
  • Matriculation: test-out option (WGU), competency-based progress.
  • Business Model: low cost models and free courses with premium services (tutoring, content, and certification).


This is an update of a 2013 post.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Dale Cope

I like this concise list of 12 trends Tom. I hope in future blogs you will expand on the six dimensions of innovation and differentiation you named. Thanks - I will keep watching for it!

Laura Segala

High school students combining online high school courses with on-campus dual credit college courses also seems to be on the rise.


The 12 trends are spot on! Our question is how do we prepare students and add value to an increasingly connected, high-tech, fast-tempo global economy? "Almost every student comes to class equipped with a small arsenal of portable, web-enabled devices, but the traditional classroom isn't designed to take advantage of these tools." http://vergepipemedia.com/blog/the-learning-shift-classroom-innovation/

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