James L. Morrison
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1992, 4(1), 2-3. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
A major purpose of On the Horizon is to identify signals of change
in the external environment that could affect educational organizations, examine
implications of these signals, and derive recommendations for educational
leaders in light of this analysis. The value of this approach to anticipating
the future is to provide lead time to prepare for the consequences of potential
changes in the external environment. The value of On the Horizon is to
serve as a “pump primer” to generate discussion about potential developments
that could affect your organization, be it a college, university, or public
Last summer I facilitated an “Anticipating the Future” workshop for fifty
community college presidents at the American Association of Community College
Summer Experience in Breckenridge, Colorado. The design of the workshop was
simple. Participants were given past issues of On the Horizon to read
several weeks prior to traveling to Breckenridge. The first exercise focused on
identifying events, the ones that--if they occurred--would affect the future of
community colleges. This exercise generated a number of potential developments.
Working in small groups, participants selected one of the most salient events
and in a sequence of exercises attempted to identify the signals that such an
event could occur within the next ten years and to derive the implications for
community colleges if the event were to occur. They also drafted
recommendations for action in light of this analysis. These exercises serve as a
model that you can use in your organization to anticipate the future and use the
information generated by the model to shape your future.
To illustrate, here is the result of one group’s analysis of a potential
event (assisted with some of my editing). The potential event they identified
was that of a major software company (such as Microsoft) joining with a provider
of educational materials (say, Disney) and a telecommunications company (such as
AT&T) to produce and sell educational training modules.
The indicators that signal such a possibility are as follows:
- Educational courses and programs are being produced by corporations. For
example, the League for Innovation in Community Colleges and Jones International
provide educational programming for distance learning.
- Cable and phone companies are consolidating to provide interactive
multimedia programming. Some cable companies are experimenting with offering
high speed access to the Internet via cable.
- Distance education is becoming accepted practice. There is increasing
evidence that much instruction can be provided effectively by interactive
instructional software. Telecommunications, software, and the Internet eliminate
walls and boundaries.
- Investors recognize that the younger generation is quickly adapting to
- An increasing number of students want and need nontraditional, flexible
- The prices of computers and modems are decreasing.
- A third of Americans have a computer in the home; 40 percent of these
computers have modems.
- The use of the Internet is expanding exponentially, and more in the business
sector than in the education sector. For example, consider the alliance between
Netscape Communications Corporation (maker of the successful Internet browser,
Netscape Navigator) and VeriFone (maker of the credit card swipers that verify
purchases for three-fourths of the credit card purchases in the United States).
These companies claim (as do several others) that they will provide competent
security (that is, encryption) for financial transactions on the Internet, thus
making business transactions, including small ones (less than a dollar), on the
Internet feasible. When successful this kind of security will accelerate use of
the Internet and will make the for-profit distribution of specialized
information commercially practicable.
- State legislative leaders are disgruntled with public higher education; some
are advocating that the private sector can design and implement instruction
better than public or independent colleges and universities.
- Outcomes assessment is still not established in the educational sector.
Employers show more regard for experience than for transcripts or school
recommendations in making employment decisions. Their concern focuses on workers
having the skills that make them useful in the workplace, not on having academic
credentials. Consequently, the certification monopoly by educational
organizations is at risk.
What are the implications of these signals for educators? Seminar
participants saw the following:
- Accreditation as currently structured would be threatened; educational
organizations could lose their monopoly to certify training.
- Curriculums must become more responsive to market demands.
- Faculty will focus on developing and using technical software rather than
writing or using books.
- Place-bound students such as women who work primarily in the home and rural
students will have equal access to instructional materials.
What should educational leaders do?
- Develop the technological competency of faculty and staff so that they can
offer instruction using interactive video-disks, CD-ROM, and telecommunications.
- Provide faculty development activities not only for enhancing technological
competency, but for integrating technology in their instruction. Faculty roles
may have to change from instructional providers to instructional managers and
- Employ faculty who are flexible and who have the competency to integrate
technology into their instruction.
- Revise a reward system in higher education that currently undervalues
community service and teaching, activities essential to garnering public support
of educational organizations.
- Seek partnerships with other educational organizations as well as
private-sector organizations to offer instructional programming via
- Demonstrate accountability to the public at large by highlighting the
competency of graduates and the social benefits of a broad range of services
that educational organizations provide.
- Invest in technology on campus, and also consider providing technological
services to the community at large via evening courses and use of file servers.
- Lobby legislatures to provide appropriations for infrastructures (for
example, fiber optics), and assure them that your organization will effectively
educate, not just train, the workers for the twenty-first century.
The world is changing quickly. In the United States, prisons and roads vie
effectively with education for public funds. The government is reducing its
support for the research infrastructure of the country. Colleges and
universities are becoming less relevant in the mind of the public. The chance of
a Microsoft/AT&T/Disney conglomerate delivering educational and occupational
training via telecommunications is not as far out as one would initially think;
indeed, the probability of this high-impact, low-probability event is
The purpose of the exercise described here is to stimulate thinking about
possibilities so that we can take action to shape our future. If you wish to see
other potential events identified by the participants at the AACC meeting as
well as those by participants in similar workshops, visit the Workshops and
Seminars section of Welcome to Horizon Home Page (http://horizon.unc.edu/projects/seminars/).
You can contribute to the dialogue on these issues via Horizon List. To
subscribe to Horizon List, send the following message to firstname.lastname@example.org: