I have to laugh when I think of the times I watched the television program, “Flash Gordon,” as he put through outer space in his make-believe space ship, talking on his make-believe wireless radio, and dressed in his make-believe space suit. Well, I’m not laughing anymore. Today we have shuttled astronauts into outer space, have men living in a Space Station, have space suites that take your temperature and gauge your heart rate, and wireless communication devices that send pictures to Planet Earth. Far fetched from reality? Not anymore. As we speak, the future is starring us in the face, waiting to see how we will promote her in the next 5-10 years.
How did science-fiction become reality over the past 50 years? Let’s consider one aspect of innovation: the learning environment – post-secondary education. Why post-secondary education, you may ask? As post-secondary education population increases, programs to accommodate students will develop into the curriculum that affords students the freedom to create and design systems they toy with daily. Are there risks involved in this adaptation process? There are risks involved when change occurs, and leadership should be aware of how to diplomatically confront the risk areas that could slow down progress. Some of the risks that could be encountered due to change are:
o Systems risks
o Subsystem risks
o Financial/economic risks
o Societal/Cultural risks
If communication between systems, subsystems, people, and cultures within the organizational environment has established a strong communication system, risks factors will be at a minimum as long as the creative teams are honest and upfront about their reservations to change.
Let’s look into the future through ‘future curlers’ and see how the universe of learning can be brought into the present. I want to introduce to you five (5) key trends that I believe affect the current learning environment, can create change, and renovate the perspective of learners and educators for students of the future. These trends could be the key to creating a new perspective in post-secondary education for an institution. The key trends are:
o Competitive classroom learning environments – campus on-site/online/distant
o Increase in technological tools
o Teaching/learning environments-more hands-on
o Global expansion capability-internal and external
o Student input in the creative learning process
Before the five (5) key trends are defined, there needs to be an acknowledgement of how the trends will be supported and regulated through a changing environment. According to de Kluyver, and Pearce, II, having the right systems and processes/subsystems enhances organizational effectiveness and facilitates coping with change. Misaligned systems and processes can be a powerful drag on an organization’s ability to adapt. Therefore, check what effect, if any, current systems and processes are likely to have on a company’s ability to implement a particular strategy is well advised. Support systems such as a company’s planning, budgeting, accounting, information and reward and incentive systems can be critical to successful strategy implementation.
Although they do not by themselves define a sustainable competitive advantage, superior support systems help a company adapt more quickly and effectively to changing requirements. A well-designed planning system ensures that planning is an orderly process, gets the right amount of attention by the right executives, and has a balanced external and internal focus. Budgeting and accounting systems are valuable in providing accurate historical data, setting benchmarks and targets, and defining measures of performance. A state-of-the-art information system supports all other corporate systems, and it facilitates analysis as well as internal and external communications.
Finally, a properly designed reward and incentive system is key to creating energy through motivation and commitment. A process (or subsystem) is a systematic way of doing things. Processes can be formal or informal; they define organization roles and relationships, and they can facilitate or obstruct change. Some processes or subsystems look beyond immediate issues of implementation to an explicit focus on developing a stronger capacity for adapting to change. Processes/subsystems aimed at creating a learning organization and at fostering continuous improvement are good examples.
As an example, processes or subsystems are functional and maintain the operation of the system; the system may be Student Services and the subsystem may be the Financial Aid Office or Admissions. Subsystems can be more in-depth concerning office operations, which involves employee positions and their culture; financial advisors, academic advisors, guidance counsellors. These operations are functions performed on the human level and could have a positive or negative impact on the development of key trends. If employees are valued and rewarded for their dedication and service, the outcome will be responsible, committed employees for the success of their subsystem.
Every navigator needs a map, a plan, a driver to give direction to for a successful trip. In this case, the driver is several elements:
o Service integrity, reputation
o Affordability with an open door concept
Hughes and Beatty relate drivers as Strategic drivers; those relatively few determinants of sustainable competitive advantage for a particular organization in a particular industry or competitive environment (also called factors of competitive success, key success factors, key-value propositions). The reason for identifying a relatively small number of strategic drivers for an organization is primarily to ensure that people become focused on what pattern of inherently limited investments will give the greatest strategic leverage and competitive advantage. Drivers can change over time, or the relative emphasis on those drivers can change, as an organization satisfies its key driver. In the case of post-secondary education, drivers help measure success rates in the area of course completion ratio, student retention, and transfer acceptance into a university and/or the successful employment of students. Because change is so rampant in education, it is wise for leadership to anticipate change and develop a spirit of foresight to keep up with global trends.
Drivers can help identify the integrity of internal and external functions of systems and subsystems, as mentioned previously, by identifying entity types that feed the drivers’ success. They are:
o Clientele Industry – external Market – feeder high schools, cultural and socio-economic demographics and geographic populations
– Competitors – local and online educational systems
– Nature of Industry – promote a learning community
– Governmental influences – licensed curriculum programs supported by local, state, and federal funds
– Economic and social influences – job market, employers, outreach programs
o College Planning and Environment – internal
– Capacity – Open door environment
– Products and services – high demand curriculum programs that meet, local, state, and federal high demand employment needs
– Market position – Promote on and off-campus activities that attract clientele
– Customers – traditional and non-traditional credit and non-credit students
– Systems, processes, and structures – trained staff and state-of-the-art technical systems
– Leadership – integrity-driven, compassionate leadership teams
– Organizational culture – promote on-campus activities promoting a proactive environment for students
According to Hughes and Beatty, these functions can assimilate into the Vision, Mission, and Values statements to define the key strategic drivers for developing successful environments.
Navigating Towards a Destination
With the recognition of systems, subsystems, and drivers, we can see our destination in the distance and their value in building a foundation to support the five key trends. The five (5) key trends will help define strategic thinking in a global perspective; the understanding of futuristic thinking that encompasses: risk-taking, imagination, creativity, communication among leadership, and a perspective of how the future can fit into today’s agenda. The five (5) key trends are:
1. Competitive Classroom Learning Environments – campus on-site/online/distant
One of the major attractions in education today is to accommodate a student at every level: academically, financially, and socially. These three environments are the mainstream of why one school is selected over another school. Today there is a change in tide. Students who once competed for seats in post-secondary schools are becoming a valued asset as post-secondary schools compete between each other for students. High schools are no longer the only feeder into colleges.
Today, students are coming from home schools, career schools, charter schools, high-risk schools, private schools, religious schools, work environments, and ATB tested environments. So, how can the educational system attract students and keep them motivated in an interactive learning environment they can grow? Wacker and Taylor write that the story of every great enterprise begins with the delivery of a promise, and every product a great enterprise makes is nothing but an artefact of the truth of that promise. So what great enterprise can be created to attract new students?
By creating learning/teaching environments, post-secondary schools can prepare students to meet the demands of everyday life and their life in the community. Schools can consider incorporating a learning model to enable professors and/or community leaders/entrepreneurs to team teach in the classroom/online environment. Team Teaching will contribute valuable views into the learning environment, as well as, give students the working community’s real-time perspective. In an excerpt from “The University at the Millennium: The Glion Declaration” (1998) quoted by Frank H.T. Rhodes, President Emeritus of Cornell University, for the Louisiana State Board of Regents report, Dr Rhodes wrote that universities are learning communities, created and supported because of the need of students to learn, the benefit to scholars of intellectual community, and the importance to society of new knowledge, educated leaders, informed citizens, expert professional skills and training, and individual certification and accreditation.
Those functions remain distinctive, essential contributions to society; they form the basis of an unwritten social compact, by which, in exchange for the effective and responsible provision of those services, the public supports the university, contributes to its finance, accepts its professional judgment and scholarly certification, and grants it a unique degree of institutional autonomy and scholarly freedom. To experience education is learning, to exercise knowledge is freedom, and to combine them is wisdom.
2. Teaching/learning environments-more hands-on
As post-secondary educators relinquish hands-on-chalk-board teaching styles and establish group teaching models, students will develop a greater understanding of the theme of the class environment as well as the professor in developing an understanding of the class cultures’ stance in learning. Educators are discovering that inclusive learning styles are revamping the teaching model and becoming a positive influence in retention, better grades, camaraderie among students, and greater respect for the professor. As professors learn to develop relationships with students, the interaction will transpire, lecturing will be condensed into a time frame and interactive learning between students and professor will enhance the classroom environment.
3. Global expansion capability-internal and external
Students are surrounded by virtual global environments or are impacted by global elements: the clothes they wear are made overseas, the games they play on their electronic toys are created overseas, the war games they play are created to identify with global war games, etc. The only drawback to this scenario is a truly global learning experience. What they are seeing is not what they are getting; a real-time global experience. James Morrison writes that to meet the unprecedented demand for access, colleges and universities need to expand their use of IT tools via online learning, which will enable them to teach more students without building more classrooms.
Moreover, for professors to prepare their pupils for success in the global economy, they need to ensure that students can access, analyze, process, and communicate information; use information technology tools; work with people from different cultural backgrounds; and engage in continuous, self-directed learning. Christopher Hayter writes that post-secondary schools need to be ‘Globally Focused’ for the 21st century that includes a global marketplace and be internationally focused. This means ensuring that skills needed to compete in a global marketplace are taught and that the mastery of such skills by students is internationally benchmarked. It may also mean a new emphasis on learning languages and understanding other cultures and the business practices of other countries.
More and more businesses are expanding into the global marketplace, opening corporate offices in foreign countries and hiring and training employees from those countries. Are our college graduates being trained to assimilate into cultures and work side-by-side with employees who may not be able to relate to them? Developing curriculums accommodating social and cultural entities will propel a student into higher realms of learning and create change in the individual student as well as support their career for their future.
4. Student input in the creative learning process
Professors are the gatekeepers in education. However, as Baby Boomer Professors begin to exit the educational workforce and head down the path of retirement, younger generation professors will take their place bringing with them innovative teaching methods that can expand the learning process. Are post-secondary educators equipped to prepare for the onslaught of younger generation educators needed to be trained for this mega shift in the workforce? Most important, will those professors caught between Boomers and Xer’s be willing to adapt to change in the education industry to accommodate incoming generations? I believe younger generations will impact even the technological industry and challenge change that will equip them for their future. Previous generation students slowly adapted to technological advances. The good news is changing can occur, and educators can utilize life experiences from students familiar with technology tools and create fascinating learning environments.
5. Increase in Technological tools
In an Executive Summary written for the National Governors Association in a report called “Innovation America – A Compact for Post Secondary Education,” the report reads that while post-secondary education in the United States has already achieved key successes in the innovation economy, the public post-secondary education system overall risks falling behind its counterparts in many other nations around the world-places where there have been massive efforts to link post-secondary education to the specific innovation needs of industries and regions. According to this report, American post-secondary education is losing ground in the race to produce innovative and imaginative realms in education. Can this trend be counteracted? With the cooperation of post-secondary educational institutions within each community, leadership can create co-op learning environments that can be supported through e-learning and online teaching that can provide virtual reality technology to enhance real-time learning environments. Through Business Development operations currently established in post-secondary institutions, a shared technology program can be created that will afford students access to ongoing virtual business environment settings and prepare students with knowledge and insight into a specific industry. As students prepare to transfer, graduate, or seek employment after completing a certification program, virtual experience in the job market can help a student assimilate education and work experience to their advantage. This concept could challenge Human Resource departments to create new mandates in accepting virtual-experienced college graduates as they enter the workforce.
Reaching the Destination
As Flash Gordan lands his Spacecraft on the unclaimed territory, you imagine yourself slowly turning the handle to the spaceship with your spaceship gloves, opening the door with explosive anticipation. Your heart racing, sweat running down your brow, and your eyes at half mask waiting to see a new world; a world filled with beauty and potential when suddenly, the television shuts off and your Mom is standing in front of you telling you to get up and go clean your room and stop daydreaming! Ah, Mom, you say to yourself, you just destroyed my imaginary planet! Oh, by the way, did I mention that this was you as a child growing up and using your imagination?
Now that I’ve created a visual world of potential for you can you see the power within to see the future from the present and help others visualize the potential benefits of change in their lives and the lives of others in an organization? T. Irene Sanders states that thinking in pictures helps us link our intuitive sense of events in the world with our intellectual understanding. Now, more than ever, we need to integrate the techniques of imagination and the skill of intuition with our analytic competencies to help us see and understand the complexities that vex us daily. Visualization is the key to insight and foresight-and the next revolution in strategic thinking and planning.
Can you SEE the systems, subsystems, drivers, and the five (5) trends with a visual perspective in a post-secondary educational environment? This is the nature of Strategic Thinking, which can or is taking place in your organization; a cognitive process required for the collection, interpretation, generation, and evaluation of information and ideas that shape an organization’s sustainable competitive advantage. The need to stay abreast of progress, technology, and global opportunities will be the change in drivers that will validate the creative elements needed to stay attuned in a global perspective. The author’s intention of introducing Flash Gordan into the paper was to create a visual image and demonstrate imagination fulfilment to present-day reality. Is there anything out there that cannot be done if it is fine-tuned and prepared for a service of excellence? What are the risks involved by not exercising strategic thinking in the elements mentioned in this article?
Education is not about the present it’s about the future. The five (5) trends are only a beginning adventure into an unknown space. Do you remember when you were in college and wished things were done differently, be more exciting, more adventurous? Consider the age groups becoming proficient in technology. Will post-secondary educators be prepared to teach/instruct future students? Educators must invite strategic thinking into the system and take the risks needed to build post-secondary education back into the global futuristic race of achievement. In an article written by Arthur Hauptman entitled “Strategies for Improving Student Success in Postsecondary Education” (07), he concluded his report listing four elements:
1. While there is a growing rhetorical commitment to student success, the reality is that policies often do not mirror the rhetoric. Whether intentional or not, policies in many states are at best benign and often antithetical to improving student success.
2. Policy focus in most states has been to lower tuitions or the provision of student financial aid. This ignores the importance of ensuring an adequate supply of seats to accommodate all students as well as providing a proper set of incentives that encourage institutions to recruit, enrol, and graduate the most at-risk students.
3. Some progress has been made in developing contemporary practices that have great potential for providing the right incentives in place of redress this traditional imbalance. But much more needs to be done in this regard.
4. Efforts to create incentives for students to be better prepared and for institutions to enrol and graduate more at-risk students have the potential for greatly improving rates of retention and degree completion.
Can the five trends be a stepping stone in rebuilding or strengthening the weakest link in the system? The evidence of deficiency is public, and that’s a good start. Educators have the choice to rebuild and prepare for the advancement of our future; our students. I encourage you to take the five (5) trends and see how they can accommodate your institute of higher learning.