Are Universities on Their Last Legs?

Though it’s more than a few years since I’ve sat down to take a formal exam, the subject of education is never far from my mind. Reading around of late, some developments in this field have caught my eye and got me thinking about what might lie in store for our best and brightest down the line.

A recent Bloomberg article from Japan suggests one of our historically fiercest economic competitors is basically on the verge of pulling the plug on tertiary education for the humanities in public education. It seems like a pretty insane policy to be implementing on the surface of things but the article makes the argument that it is part of a planned shift back to traditional Japanese strengths in engineering and other hard disciplines.

Closer to home, I couldn’t help noticing LinkedIn’s recent $1.5 billion purchase of online learning platform Lynda back in April. I’ll be honest here, prior to reading the Forbes article about the acquisition, I’d never even heard about Lynda or any of the other new wave of online universities but the author of the piece made a good case for the platform so I duly signed up to have a sniff around.

What I found at Lynda.com astonished me – a simply enormous amount of top-quality material across a vast range of subjects and all presented in a slick, simple to follow format that sucks learners in. Given my background, the business section was naturally my first port of call here and I was genuinely taken aback at the quality of the content on offer.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a lot of great teachers over the years but a surprisingly small percentage of them were in a traditional academic setting. Looking around platforms like Lynda – Coursera is next on my list to explore – I find myself marveling at what I could have done as a younger man with access to these sort of resources.

The natural follow-up from all of this of course is: why should the young folks of today take years out of their lives and drive themselves hopelessly into debt for a college education when world-class resources are available online for less than the cost of your monthly Starbuck’s budget?

I’m not predicting the imminent demise of our great learning institutions by any measure but it’s clear that this is an area that’s going to experience massive change in the next few years. We live in interesting times!

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