I went to Trinity College in Connecticut – a liberal arts school that helped me become the well-rounded individual I am today. Love or hate liberal arts, it’s alive and well right now in the U.S. – but for how long? Will my experience at Trinity be the same for the next few generations of enrolled students? Probably not. Thanks to the influx of technology, MOOCs, and rising tuition costs … Sam Cooke was right when he said ‘a change is gonna come.’
So what could happen to the current liberal arts model? When will each prediction happen? Am I completely off and just guessing? You be the judge. I offer up just a few ideas for where I think liberal arts is headed in the relatively near future.
Liberal arts schools, like all other schools, are seeing a surge of technology into their classrooms. That’s widely reported and basically inevitable at this point. But my prediction is moreso about how liberal arts will impact technology (rather than the other way around).
Startups and Silicon Valley companies are getting more and more engineering and tech jobs filled every day. They’ll soon realize they need more creative thinking individuals who can harness their liberal arts background to marry the beauty of quality design and useful ideas. Think Steve Jobs here. There’s a reason he once said “it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.”
Right now, MOOCs are basically all about building real world skills. With the exception of a few sources like EdX (the Harvard part at least), Massively Open Online Courses are an exercise in skill-building. There’s very little liberal arts presence. That will start to change over the coming years. The importance of a liberal arts education is not in question (nor should it be) – but the focus has certainly shifted away from it.
Right now, we still consider the only way to attain a liberal arts education is to attend a brick and mortar institution. I agree that face-to-face learning is still the best method of getting a liberal arts education, but it shouldn’t be the only way. If you’re starting a MOOC or already running one, it might be time to consider deploying more liberal arts courses to ensure we’re not just raising a generation of computer scientists who can’t tie their shoes.
If I read another story about how the typical college campus is going to magically crumble and vanish overnight due to the onset of MOOCs and online learning, I’ll scream. Dramatic? Yes. So are these stories. I think it’s time we give campus administrators a little more credit and assume they are bridging the gap between the old way of doing things and this newfangled ‘technology’ everyone is talking about. As someone who has been in higher education for the better part of a decade, I can say with a degree of certainty that campuses are not going anywhere. They’re simply changing. Doubly so for liberal arts schools.
The presence of an actual physical campus will be critical for many learners who simply can’t get a good education online. Physical school campuses will be a hybrid or hyflex learning model that utilizes both in-person learning coupled with the power of online education. It’s win-win and means that schools will be better … not dust. (I hope I’m right on this one.)