Let me start by taking you approximately 25 years back in time. If you have reached my age 25 years does not seem to be that long ago, but if you are 30 years old it is most of your life. In 1995 I founded my first online learning company together with a couple of others. We provided practical, short management courses in for example decision making processes, how to communicate with different personal styles, how to handle conflicts etc. It did not become a big commercial success, even though the content was very good. There can be many reasons we didn’t succeed in making this commercially successful, but I am sure the main reason was that we were at least 15 years too early in seeing the opportunity of making online training.

The changes created by technology and the internet had at that time not yet been

fully recognized by the broader market. Our potential clients were simply not ready for online learning yet.

First general insight:

So, if you embrace the opportunity too early, you will very likely fail even if the content you provide is of high quality.

This is of course also true the other way around; if you are too late in embracing change because it is inconvenient or you don’t see it or you hope it will just be a temporary change and then everything will be back to “normal”, yes then you will also very likely fail. Or, at least, not be as successful in what you are doing as you could have been. 

Recently I saw a very interesting discussion between two Norwegian business leaders. One claimed that home-offices would be the new normal and his corporation would now accommodate for all their several thousands of employees to work from home most of the time.

The other one claimed the opposite, that working from home means hiding away and is a kind of social isolation that is very bad both for employees and for the business.

It is maybe not surprising that the first businessman is in charge of the largest telecom company in Norway, Telenor, and want to promote their products as tools for working from anywhere, and the other is the founder of hotel chains and travel agencies all over Scandinavia, and his business needs people to get together both for business meetings and leisure.

Second general insight:

We embrace the changes that benefit us and try to forget or talk away the others. It is a dangerous strategy.

Third general insight:

Here is another insight that only years of experience could give me. Changing to a new situation, whether it is driven by an opportunity or a crisis, always take a long time. You will probably not see the fruits of the change before several years later. So, to master change is more about risk taking and about having a positive mindset trying to embrace the change, and patience, rather than about techniques and methodologies in how to do it.

When we founded the university of Fredericton 15 years ago, we designed it from the beginning to be 100% online. Technology, faculty, approval processes, registration, payment systems, student services, curriculum etc. is based on the fact that that we have no physical constraints.

Our offices are located downtown Fredericton in New Brunswick, Canada, but since a big river flows through Fredericton, and almost each spring creates huge flooding, we decided to organize our operation with back-up options for all employees to be able to operate from home offices if and when there was a flood that made it difficult to come to the office.

We were therefore almost by design created for the Covid-19 crisis. We had not even a minute of disruption and were able to handle the huge increase in applications as a consequence of this crisis. 

If we scroll fast forward to 2020, I am sure no one could only 30 years ago imagine how much change we would constantly have to cope with:

  • Political instability is typical all over the world today,
  • we are experiencing a serious disruption in the established global economy that at least worries me a lot,
  • social networks and ways to meet each other have changed completely because of the internet and so-called social platforms,
  • technology and in particular Artificial Intelligence are for the first time not only making us more effective in HOW we produce products and services, but it is now even defining the WHAT to do. Until now, only we humans could define the what to do, now Artificial Intelligence can do it for us.
  • Technology are already able to make choices for us. Even ethical choices.
  • Constant and substantial change and instability have become the normal situation, and if this was not enough, we got the Covid 19 disaster.

To handle these changes, disruptions, crisis is what leadership is about, however. The survival of the fittest cannot be more visibly displayed; it is not about the strongest, biggest, most impressive business, industry or country; it is about being the most adaptable. Adaptable to embracing the change as an opportunity.

Until our time “muscles”, physical strength and real assets (property, machinery, land etc.) has been the most important element of doing business and being “in charge”. We had to literally own and control physical assets in order to do business. Today, the largest “transport” company own no vehicles themselves (Uber). The largest accommodation company owns no hotels or flats themselves (Airbnb). The maybe largest provider of university courses owns no universities (Coursera).

They all just organize information from owners of the “hard assets” and bring stakeholders together.

From the industrial revolution we have organized in more and more advanced forms, but it is only in the last 30 years that we saw the transformation from physical force and assets as the most important “power”, to intelligence.

Now not even human intelligence, information and IT systems are enough, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already taking over. In a few years, the science fiction dream or nightmare is here (depending on how you see it) and we don’t even need human intelligence anymore. Soon it will be possible to implant data-chips into the human brain and endless information and knowledge will be available for us all. Everywhere and anywhere.

No matter what, all companies today relay on and are good at using intelligence, information and advanced communication. This is however not anymore what will distinguish the great from the good.

What will distinguish is to have a deep, emotional and “heart-driven” purpose. Remember what I am saying; “heartful purpose” will be the next big watermark. We will choose the providers that are driven by an honest and emotional purpose. Why? My belief is that it is very much based on our shared need to re-find trust and connection with each other.

Let me end this article with saying something about what I believe will be the changes in higher education the next few years. This is after all my own “industry”.

Traditional and conservative industries like e.g. banking, telecommunication and energy supply are completely changed and re-organized.

Education is next.

The change is already happening.
I believe that going from brick and mortars towards more online is only a part of that change.

The internet with its paradigm changing opportunities has impacted higher education deeper the last 20 years than the previous 800 years of accumulated changes.  

Here are 10 of my “insights” on the next few years of changes in higher education:

1.   Universities – the “fittest that will survive” – will change their core value system of being “self-serving” institutions to become more entrepreneurial and student-centric – accountable for what students learn and how it impacts their professional career. From being extremely expensive, both for students and for the taxpayers (in countries where education is so-called “free of charge”) they will operate with reasonable cost-benefit based pricing.

2.  Half of all college students never graduate. The two key factors are lack of direction and social disconnection. Sophisticated e-advising systems will monitor student engagement and degree development, and the best institutions will have human resources (not “robot-systems”!) to assist and support the student to stay on the track to a degree

3.  Students will be getting their credits from multiple providers, embracing online courses and rejecting traditional curricula (that are serving as universities cash-cow)

4.  Tradition, stability, prestige will be displaced by innovative ways to teach, responsiveness in program development and “usefulness” rather than status

5.  Virtual reality, gaming/simulations, animations and eventually artificial intelligence will become dominant tools in digital learning (both at universities, colleges and primary schools)

6.  The science of learning will become the core of instructional design. Learning objectives, mastery, close alignment between assessment and learning goals, more focus on active learning, real-world cases, social skills, teamwork and values will be the key elements in course design

7.  An increasing number of brick-and-mortar universities already offer a large part of their curriculum and instructions online. Blended classes (with a high degree of online classes) will become the norm

8.  There will be fundamental changes in public higher education. Financial constraints, student demands and much tougher competition will force politicians, faculty, educational boards and accrediting units to design the education to serve students need rather than self-serving interests and prestige

9.  New generations of students, grown up with so-called social media, understand that online learning promotes and build a strong social network. The best online universities are creating a sense of community through team-based projects, interaction and collaborative learning

10. Competition will be much tougher. Brick-and-mortar institutions will seek partnership with successful online universities in order to rapidly and effectively increase their own online offerings.