Issues Challenging Education CLOUDS AND SUN

The Changing Contexts of Higher Education and Four Possible Futures for Distance Education

Patricia Kovel-Jarboe
University of Minnesota

The context in which higher education functions is changing dramatically; consideration of the current and potential role of distance education in MinnesotaUs higher education community should take into account these dramatic changes. In particular, policy makers need to examine the distance education futures available, evaluate and select a preferred future or futures, and make sure that public policy and regulatory considerations enable rather than inhibit achievement of this future.

For the purposes of discussion, this document adopts Michael Moore's 1990 definition of distance education. "Distance education consists of all arrangements for providing instruction through print or electronic communications media to persons engaged in planned learning in a place or time different from that of the instructor or instructors." Note that this definition incorporates the concept of "transactional distance" as well as the traditional notion of geographic distance. Thus, on-campus instruction in which the act of teaching is separate from the act of learning, as in, for example, computer-based language instruction or individualized tutorials and simulations in any number of disciplines, is included in this definition.

This document has two parts; the first part provides a brief overview of factors changing higher education. These factors are primarily external to higher education, but some are internal. These can be thought of as the drivers of change and potential change. Not every higher education institution will be affected to the same degree by the drivers. Educational institutions cannot choose whether or not to be affected by these drivers; they can, however, choose how they will respond.

The second part of the document offers descriptions of four possible futures. These are not preferred futures, nor even the most likely futures; rather, the futures described here represent several points along a continuum of possible change. It is probable that the next decade will find higher education institutions situated at many points on that continuum, but the drivers, along with current institutional mission and characteristics, as well as institutional responses to the drivers, will be significant in determining that placement.

Changing Opportunities and Constraints: External and Internal Factors

A. Globalization In higher education, globalization is leading to increased emphasis on internationalization of the curriculum; it is also contributing to opportunities for new partnerships for research and teaching with agencies and institutions across the globe. Another aspect of globalization, especially in light of the evolution of communications technology, is the increased permeability of international boundaries.

Globalization may be a source of new students or may contribute to loss of some of the international students whom we have traditionally attracted.

B. Changing demographics Longer lives, longer work days, larger urban areas, more diverse populations, more frequent moves -- all of these affect higher education. Despite the "baby bust" with its decrease in what has been thought of as the college-aged cohort, higher education has continued to see increases in those seeking its services. The continued expansion of major metropolitan areas with corresponding increases in vehicle traffic has been coupled with decreased spending on highway construction leaving many urban dwellers with only theoretical proximity to the nearest educational institutions.

Higher education will have to find ways of dealing with, responding to, and, ideally, benefitting from these trends. Those institutions which are able to satisfy needs created or exacerbated by demographic change will almost certainly find a large market for their programs and services.

C. Restructuring of employment ItUs been predicted that the average worklife in the future will consist of six or seven different careers carried out sequentially. Life-long learning is becoming a necessity rather than the enrichment opportunity it may have been in the past. More students who already possess a degree are looking for vocational courses (that is, courses expected to improve job or career skills.) If employers continue to reduce the number of core (ie. benefitted) employees, more of these students may be paying directly for the education they need to become or remain employable.

Some of these students may be interested in accumulating degree credits (perhaps for M.A. or M.S.) but over a relatively long period of time.

Another aspect of restructuring in the workplace, telecommuting, may significantly influence the delivery of higher education. Communities in Europe, in Hawaii and in Fredericksburg, VA. are creating telecommuting facilities to allow their residents to work for distant employers. The number of people working from home will continue to increase.

Will these facilities also be designed to accommodate and even encourage learning?

D. Technological change There is little reason to believe that the rate of technology change will decrease. Likewise, the rate at which new technologies are penetrating businesses and especially homes can be expected to increase. One possible impact of changing technologies is a move away from site-based delivery of education to more flexible, learner-selected options.

Whether access to and pricing of these new technologies will advantage or disadvantage educational users is an issue that should be of intense interest to the educational community.

E. Demand for accountability Educational institutions will continue to feel this pressure. Control of costs, elimination of duplication (and in some cases, unique options perceived to be too costly) and evidence of other efficiencies receive a lot of attention from legislatures and higher education regulating agencies. Similarly demands for greater productivity in higher education will continue to be heard with greater frequency than anytime in the past.

Along with the focus on accountability comes pressure to adopt "the businessmodel" with its greater emphasis on "the bottom line."

So far, many would argue, we have seen more rhetoric than results.

Certainly, faculty productivity is part of the issue, but increasingly there is concern for student productivity and with it attention to such measures as contact hours and seat time.

F. Consumerism Higher educationUs consumers have become much more sophisticated. They too look for accountability, but they also seek quality. They are more likely to define quality in the language of the quality improvement movement, that is, satisfaction of customer needs, than in the traditional measures of quality used in higher education, that is, rich resources as represented by the size of libraries, staff to student ratios, and the number and size of grants and contracts won by the faculties. They look to increased competition among higher education providers to work to their advantage as consumers. They expect a market bounded by competitive pricing (tuition) and differentiation (quality).

G. Expectations by employers and business There is increased interest in partnerships -- between the business world and the academy and among education entities. Distance education consortia are one example, so are K-12 and university partnerships.

Where some businesses have been unable to achieve appropriate partnerships with educators, they have formed their own, degree-granting or credentialing units, some of which serve non-employees as well. Higher education institutions are being called upon to more clearly define their roles in training and credentialing as well as education and learning.

H. Rate of knowledge growth Our response to the growth in knowledge has been to expand our institutions - more disciplines, more departments, more faculty specialization, more courses and, of course, ever larger faculties, libraries and facilities. Given the constrained resources we now face and likely to be available to education for the foreseeable future, it is clear the era of growth has ended. What is not clear, is how our campuses will adapt to this condition.

I. New ideas about teaching and learning Lots of exciting discussions are taking place: about the curriculum; about how we teach and learn; about what experiences are essential to the educated person; about the appropriate balance between education for a career and education for its own sake; about "time to degree" and about a myriad other aspects of what constitutes higher education. Some of the more stimulating ideas are those that look at the coherence of curricula and at the ways in which we can engage students in becoming active learners, teaching students how to learn as well as specific subject matter. We have also discovered much more about individual learning styles and are adjusting our teaching practices to reflect this knowledge.

Technologies and other factors will contribute to dramatic changes in faculty and learner roles.

Distance education programs have a head start in these arenas and ought to be able to find ways to capitalize on it.

J. Campus demographics Our faculties as well as our students are getting older. As faculty retire, resource limitations will drive institutions to smaller faculties, at least smaller tenured faculties, supplemented with itinerant faculty and other instructional staff. We may even see an increase in the outsourcing of instructional functions, comparable to what has taken place in non-instructional services. Preserving or enhancing the diversity of our faculties will be a challenge in this environment.

Diverse student populations are a given, but how we respond to them is not.

Having sought and attained students of color, older students, and others who have been traditionally underrepresented on our campuses, how will we create communities that truly include them without losing the uniqueness that they bring? Do distance education and telecommunications technologies give us some opportunities?

K. Concern for community There is a growing interest in campuses as communities, particularly in how large institutions can recapture the sense of belonging that some perceived has been lost. Most of the writing on this topic focuses on students.

Faculty question the fragmentation that seems to have come with greater specialization; it looks to interdisciplinary research and teaching and the use of faculty teams to create a new sense of community. However, teams have been largely ignored by our reward systems.

One of the problems faced in distance education is the need for collaboration in the development of courses and programs that has made distance education notably different from other academic effort.

L. Restructuring and new patterns of decision making in higher education As higher education has encountered a more competitive era, administrations and boards are examining administrative structures and decision making practices to see if changes would provide a competitive advantage. TQM, consolidated colleges and departments, and new approaches to literally hundreds of practices are some of the ways in which these concerns are being addressed within our institutions.

Outside the U.S. there have been experiments with academic credit banks, agencies which offer no courses or student services but provide a repository for students to deposit credits and, when certain requirements have been met, an RaccreditedS degree. Institutions without campuses but with a discrete faculty, institutions without either campus or faculty, for example the National Technological University, have been tried on a limited scale, and some have succeeded.

It would be foolish to try here to assume the full impact of all of these drivers on any specific higher education institution or system; individual institutions should do this as part of their ongoing planning. But, it is possible to make educated guesses about the relative direction and degree of impact of combined drivers on the overall system of higher education. Higher education is, however, unlikely to produce timely, effective and appropriate responses if it does not first acknowledge these drivers as potent forces for change.

Four Possible Futures for Distance Education The four futures which follow are not exhaustive; they do not represent the most likely or most preferred futures. They do represent a continuum from relatively modest change as it might be reflected in distance education to significant institutional change played out across many dimensions including distance education.

Although quality is often the issue raised first in academic discussions of distance education, for the purposes of examining and selecting distance education futures it is useful to recall that decades of research on a variety of distance education delivery options show that well-designed distance education is as good as or better than classroom delivery of comparable content in terms of student learning. This finding holds across student populations, technologies, and subject matters.

Finally, it is important to state that none of the futures offered here assumes the complete disappearance of other options. If there is one thing we can know about change, it is that more flexibility, rather than less, is apt to be one of our greatest resources. Traditional, residential undergraduate and graduate education will continue to be the options of choice for many students at some time during their educational career, but they need no longer be the only options.

Future 1: Higher Education Continues To Be Campus- and Classroom-Based


Post-secondary institutions continue to function as they do today. The primary use of distance education is to allow the faculty member to be in two places at one time, usually two RcampusesS or other educational sites. The primary mode of instruction is faculty directed (lecture, discussion, etc.), and technology is used to reinforce or support the instructor.

Influence of Drivers

Institutions will respond to a greater or lesser extent to any of the drivers noted, but the primary drivers are likely to be: Changing Demographics (on campus and off), and the pressures of Consumerism.

Faculty Perspective

The role of the faculty member is largely unchanged from current practice, although he or she may receive support from technical staff in the development of supporting materials for use in instruction, especially for use with distant classes.

Student Perspective

The student is expected to attend classes at a set time and locale, although the site may be distant from the instructor; students continue to learn in group (classroom) settings with a stable cohort. Some instructional support materials may be available via technology -- library catalog access, CD-ROMs, tutorials, etc. Progress is tied to contact hours and academic terms.

Institutional Role and Requirements

The role of the college or university is unchanged. Distance education is the exception rather than the norm and is marginal to the RrealS mission of the institution. As a result issues related to distance education are dealt with on an ad hoc basis. No new requirements are placed on the institution.

Public Policy/Regulatory Interests

The approach to public policy is one of accommodation in current policies to ensure that the relatively small numbers of distance learners are not disadvantaged by existing rules and regulations. Questions concerning financial aid, for example, will need to be addressed when students are taking courses through other than their home institution.

Future 2: Delivery Of Higher Education Begins To Move Away From Fixed Sites And Times


While higher education institutions continue to exist in a manner much like we see today, learners are able to access instruction in a richer delivery environment. In addition to the traditional classroom instruction, students can easily take courses from other "approved" institutions in real time or asynchronously through the use of various mediating technologies. Whole courses or course modules designed to work well for students with specific learning styles have become widely available. It is possible that a few national (or even international) higher education institutions may begin to emerge with highly specialized curricula delivered to narrowly targeted students over a wide geographic area.

Influence of Drivers

The primary drivers are likely to be Accountability and New Ideas About Teaching and Learning with secondary influences coming from Technological Change and Restructured Employment; however, individual campuses may be influenced by any of the drivers.

Faculty Perspective

Faculty members still spend the bulk of their teaching time in the classroom, but recognition and rewards for the development of technology-mediated modules and/or courses are available. Faculty have access to technical support and may work in course development teams with other faculty and non-faculty. Most faculty will be expected to teach at a distance on at least an occasional basis. Revisions to the curriculum will take into account the availability of courses and course resources from other institutions.

Student Perspective

While students are still functioning within a system based on contact hours and terms, they have access to a broader array of courses and delivery options. Most students will experience some distance learning -- courses delivered from remote sites and/or faculty in other institutions, courses delivered via technology to the individual learner in the home or workplace. Technology is used regularly to enhance the quality of classroom instruction. Some students may receive a significant part of their instruction via alternative methods and sites, but most students will continue to have a more traditional experience.

Institutional Role and Requirements

Higher education institutions use their human and other resources in slightly different ways. Distance education and other uses of instructional technology require that technical staff work more closely with faculty to address instructional issues. Rather than deal on an ad hoc basis with issues related to distance education, institutions establish new practices and procedures -- for example, identifying and approving courses from other sites that may be used to supplement their own offerings. Campuses find that some resources previously expended for faculty must be redirected to support technical assistance and the purchase of instructional materials.

Public Policy/Regulatory Interests Legislatures, governing boards and higher education agencies may develop new policies but are likely to continue to make adjustments in existing policies as necessary to accommodate expanded use of distance education. Emergent national institutions may decide to operate without state approval.

Future 3: Higher Education Institutions Are Differentiated By Their Uses of Distance Education and Instructional Technologies

In this scenario, post-secondary institutions are likely to move in two divergent directions. Minnesota may find itself with representatives of both.

Description - A

Traditional post-secondary institutions function in a more collaborative way to offer courses, programs and degrees to MinnesotaUs learners. While most students still spend time on campus, institutions are sharing faculty expertise and courseware to enrich the educational experience and avoid duplication of expensive, low-demand courses and programs. Few students will leave Minnesota's post-secondary institutions without having taken technology-mediated courses as well as courses taught by distant faculty. For example, language majors will take courses/seminars offered by collaborating institutions in foreign countries. Unique programs and resources housed in Minnesota are available to learners nationally and internationally.

Even in the most traditional institutions, the research functions of higher education are becoming clearly separated from the instructional functions. This trend is driven in part by changes in patterns of federal funding for research.

Description - B

Some students are able to earn degrees and other credentials without having to attend (physically) a campus. Some campuses that existed in 1994 have been retrofitted to function primarily or exclusively as independent learning facilities or "campuses without faculty." A small but significant portion of MinnesotaUs learner population is served by institutions having no physical presence in Minnesota; these institutions may be premier, traditional universities with renowned programs (such as MIT or Stanford) or emergent, specialized institutions which may operate with or without program approvals.

Influence of Drivers - A

While all drivers have some influence, RAS institutions are particularly responsive to Globalization, Technological Change, and interest in Community.

Influence of Drivers - B

Again, all drivers exert influence, but RBS institutions have been most affected by Expectations by Employers and Business, Campus Demographics and New Structures and Patterns of Decision Making in Higher Education.

Faculty Perspective - A

Most faculty have experience in designing and delivering distance learning opportunities; often they are members of relatively stable course development teams which include instructional support personnel, assessment specialists, and technical staff. Teaching effort is measured in course development and the progress of individual students as well as classroom contact hours.

Faculty Perspective - B

Faculty have students, especially at the undergraduate level, whom they see infrequently (or never). This necessitates new approaches to assessment and academic feedback. Other faculty find that although they have significant face-to-face contact with students, they function primarily as facilitators of learning (advising, counseling, directing to intellectual resources, mentoring) and rarely "teach" or develop a course.

Student Perspective - A

Students find that they are encouraged to choose from multiple options for completing specific courses based on learning style and educational objectives. Career- or vocationally-oriented students may be mentored in their last terms by practitioners from outside the campus community, while students planning to extend their educational experience may have access to disciplinary experts from throughout the nation or world.

Student Perspective - B

Because students do not RattendS courses on campus, students are grouped in cohorts based on their learning styles and academic interests. Ongoing interaction among members of a cohort enriches and extends the learning experience; faculty participate in these groups and/or serve as facilitators. Student progress is based on skill and concept mastery rather than contact hours or fixed terms, although most students continue to use the academic term as a tool for managing their time and gauging their progress. resources, mentoring) and rarely RteachS or develop a course.

Institutional Role and Requirements - A and B

Institutions develop and maintain programs through a continuous process of market research, follow-up with previous students/graduates, and interaction with employers and graduate schools. Clearly articulated missions and demonstrated success in carrying out those missions are the bases for funding new programs and continuing support for existing programs to serve Minnesota residents. Unique, high-quality offerings are marketed to a wide range of other institutions and individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere. Institutional partnerships that provide seamless transitions for learners from K - 12 to post-secondary to continuing education encourage commitment and continuity. The move away from contact hours and fixed-term courses requires new approaches to tuition; the move away from site-based educational delivery requires different kinds of capital investment for infrastructure.

In RAS institutions, there is an emphasis on partnerships with other higher education providers in the U.S. and elsewhere. These partnerships include shared faculty and shared courses as well as other resources, ie. libraries and instructional materials.

In RBS institutions, resources are expended on course materials, instructional technologies and academic support. Some or all of these may be purchased from other higher education institutions.

Public Policy/Regulatory Interests - A and B In addition to modifications in existing policies, policy makers must develop new policies and new methods of measuring success. For example, competition could lead to institutions only attending to those special interests/needs which would ensure high student enrollments. To protect societyUs broadest interests will require mechanisms that encourage the availability of a wide array of educational programs and learner options. Policy makers will have to determine whether market forces can adequately and fairly shape the higher education sector, whether intervention is required, and, if so, how that intervention can be provided efficiently and effectively.

Future 4: Higher Education: Consortia Versus Entrepreneurs


The focus in higher education has moved from the institutions that deliver learning opportunities to learners and meet broad social interests. While longstanding higher education institutions continue to meet the needs of many learners, many such institutions have disappeared. In response to educational funding which follows the learner rather than the institution, entrepreneurial providers abound; many of them from the for-profit sectors. The successful higher education institutions have formed consortia (cartels) which enable them to work collectively to meet a wide range of student needs and control costs; however, credentials -- including degrees -- can be obtained through a variety of mechanisms and institutions.

The research functions which have traditionally been a part of American universities are now clearly separate from the educational functions of those same institutions.

A range of specialized national (and international) higher education institutions are actively seeking students from Minnesota. For example, undergraduates studying Latin America take all their courses from world experts in that area. Core and collateral courses, including lab sciences and courses meeting distribution requirements, are taught in Spanish.

Influence of Drivers Depending on their strategic niche, higher education institutions may capitalize on any combination of the drivers.

Faculty Perspective

Faculty function as entrepreneurs with loose institutional ties, if any, or within a single institution as learning facilitators. Individual faculty, especially those who excell in the teaching role, may be on the faculties (via technology and independent course packets) of any number of institutions or marketing their courses and programs directly to learners. Some of the best teaching faculty have been hired by the for-profit education providers, who provide them with highly competent teams of instructional support staff.

The many roles combined in 1994-style higher education in a single faculty member are now discrete. Faculty may specialize as developers of courses and courseware, presenters of that material, expert assessors of learning and competencies, advisors or in other, still evolving, roles.

Student Perspective

Individual learners decide whether to affiliate with a specific higher education institution or function as independent students buying courses from a long list of providers. In the later case, the learner banks credits with a public learning agency or a for-profit organization providing credentialing services. The agency or organization determines whether students have met the criteria necessary to receive a specific credential (certificate, degree or other) and, if warranted, awards it. The economics of supply and demand keep the cost of basic courses and programs low, while unique offerings garner higher incomes for their providers.

Institutional Role and Requirements

A considerable number of higher education institutions have disappeared. Those that remain have worked hard to deliver high-quality programs to well-defined markets. Hiring practices have changed to ensure that those hired to teach are extremely well qualified to do so. Faculties are much smaller, but outstanding teachers (including the facilitator role) are well compensated. Resources previously expended to build and maintain campuses are, in large measure, redeployed to instructional activities.

Public Policy/Regulatory Interests

The challenge to policy makers has been to determine what interests are not well served by allowing market forces to operate freely. With the stream of financial resources for higher education following the student rather than the institution, legislatures have developed a new level of sophistication about learning (as opposed to education), and regulatory agencies have had to completely revamp their approaches to financial aid, program approval, and assessment. In order to adequately protect consumer (student) interests, rigorous outcome measures have been implemented. Some states have eliminated agencies which formerly regulated higher education. Credit banks, whether in the public or private sector, have in some instances begun to serve as de facto regulatory agencies and have accepted the role of protecting the integrity of the student record (consumer protection focus). Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) and the State Higher Education Executive

Concluding Statement

This document and the four futures contained in it have been prepared as part of a multi-state research project supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Officers (SHEEO) organization. The goal of the research overall is to examine possible redesign efforts that would help to create a more learner-centered and cost-effective system for higher education. MinnesotaUs portion of the project has been structured to examine issues related to the current and potential roles of distance education and instructional technologies in the reshaping of higher education.

As noted at the beginning of the document, the futures presented in it are not intended to represent the best or most preferred options; they are designed to describe a range of more and less extreme possibilities reflecting those issues which are expected to have the greatest effect on higher education over the next decade.

Based on feedback from a sample of students, faculty, administrators, student support personnel and policy makers the futures will be revised and the policy implications of each examined in greater detail.

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