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How Changes Are Shaking Up Higher Ed

Innovation and technology are mixing up traditional practices. Hiring companies are taking online degrees more seriously.

October 19, 2012
Related Topics: Learning Delivery, Learning Delivery, Virtual Learning

There are now more and better programs to help attain an advanced academic degree. There is also a surge in online, accredited, free, world-class courses. Whether for yourself or your employees, the options are expanding rapidly, and the changes are shaking the institution of higher learning.

1. Online has become credible: “While the quality of online … degrees left much to be desired during their early days, their attributes have steadily improved over the past few years, as have their pedigrees,” said Stacy Blackman, who blogs for U.S. News & World Report, which provides widely cited annual university rankings.

Here are some of the premier, world-renowned universities now offering online degrees: The Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona is consistently ranked No. 1 by the Financial Times and U.S. News & World Report. Others include The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Non-U.S. schools include the No. 1 ranked London School of Business and Finance, where you can enroll in the online global MBA, or opt for a diploma in enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Companies are taking online degrees more seriously, and credibility will continue to increase with more accreditation and objective data on results, satisfaction, hiring and promotion rates.

2. Learn by doing: As learning professionals, we know the value of hands-on practice, “get up and do it,” and “prove you know it.” This inclination toward the more practical and less academic is reaching colleges.

Business schools have adopted the case-study method as a step away from the academic lecture and toward the real world. Harvard spent 13 years perfecting this and is leading the space with an experiential learn-by-doing course on leading and entrepreneurship. The course matches students with a company around the world and sends them there for a week. Upon returning, students develop a product idea and a business plan, receive $3,000 to test the idea and pitch it to a group for possible additional funding.

3. It’s not your parents’ alma mater: “We are not going to have departments on this campus. We are going to have areas of concentration based on the ... economy that we are calling hubs,” said Cornell University President David Skorton on the “Charlie Rose” show. Similarly, Georgia Tech has created the Center for 21st Century Universities as a living laboratory for fundamental change in higher education. The university promotes innovation and experimentation through technology that is equally supported by process and policy changes — change management along with innovation.

4. Use free world-class university courses: Enter the MOOC (massive open online courses). Coursera offers 116 courses from Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, University of California — Berkeley, University of Michigan and Princeton. The site states the company is a social entrepreneurship that partners with top universities around the world to offer free courses online for anyone. The idea is to provide millions of students with access to top universities.

Sebastian Thrun is a professor at Stanford and a Google fellow heading Project Glass. He and another colleague opened their courses to anyone worldwide and had more than 100,000 enrollees. He then helped start Udacity to offer classes for free with interactivity and frequent feedback. He believes there are millions grasping for knowledge globally.

Also in the mix: edX, previously MITx, which includes MIT, Harvard and University of California — Berkeley. ITunes University from Apple offers course authoring and courses from universities, with more than 250,000 downloads every week. The largest campus worldwide, however, is Indira Gandhi National Open University with 3.5 million online students.

5. “Degrees? We don’t need degrees!”: We are living in a world with everyday assaults on things structured and institutionalized. Thinking outside the box has become action outside the box, whether it is micro-banking, dorm-room startups or social change via smartphone. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, is fostering debate about the value of college and student debt. He backs it up with his Thiel Foundation, which offers $100,000 over two years to 20 geniuses under age 20 to forgo college and pursue their research and breakthrough ideas.

These bold actions in the higher education domain are new. Expect much more.

Brandon Hall is chairman of Brandon Hall Group. He can be reached at

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