Will kids still “go to college” 25 years from now?

graduation-ratesReading a news article about a college baseball team on a weeks-long road trip made possible by online classes made me think back to my own college years.

I started college in the fall of 1990, 25 years ago, in an era before any of us had ever heard the word Internet, much less had any idea how the connectivity that it would spawn would change our world.

I still wrote papers at first in draft form longhand, then typed them on a typewriter, and not very well. Research was done in a library, involving actual books, periodicals, newspapers and microfiche, and more longhand.

And now kids can take some of their coursework online, and of course if you want you can get a college degree without leaving the cozy comforts of home, though you have to compromise a bit in terms of the brand name on the degree.

But, and since I’m looking back 25 years to when I started matriculating at the University of Virginia as a first-year, I’ll look 25 years ahead, and wonder aloud about the future of brand-name education.

Will online learning have entirely replaced bricks-and-mortar classrooms 25 years into the future, with professors lecturing online, students in front of their screens taking notes, able to tweet or interject in some other form or fashion to get questions in on key points, then meet up in virtual office hours after class to make sure that they’re able to keep up?

It might seem to be taking it a bit far to suggest that online learning will ever entirely replace the bricks and mortar, but the times, they are a-changin’, right, so why not? For one, think of the cost savings, to students, not having to pack up and relocate to a new hometown for four years, and to colleges and universities, who wouldn’t have to provide housing, food and related services to those students.

The ability of online learning to replicate the interactivity of in-person interpersonal relationships is the biggest question that remains to be answered, honestly, because the money part of the equation just makes too much sense.

How the kids of that next generation who then become the leaders even further down the line take what they learn in that new setting and bring it into those distant new realities is something that won’t concern me in the slightest, considering that I’ll have long since passed into the history bins by then.

It will be a brave new world, and one as unfamiliar, no doubt, to those of us alive today as our world today would be to the likes of the Jeffersons and Madisons and their brethren who came of age at the founding of our nation a couple of hundred years back.

– Column by Chris Graham

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