Global Learning is the Future of Education
The future of education lies in its globalisation, modernisation and encouraging innovation, and we must let technologies such as e-learning lead the way, says LSBF’s Prof Maurits van Rooijen
I had not been to Seoul for a few years as I realised my Won currency notes were considered museum pieces rather than legal tender. Last week, Seoul and the prestigious 600-year-old Sung Kyun Kwan University were playing host to the 9th QS-Apple conference and its 600 or so delegates. I was kindly invited to give the opening plenary keynote. At 09:15 in the morning, being just past midnight according to my body clock, the challenge was not so much keeping the audience alert but rather keeping this speaker himself awake!
My presentation was about the importance of innovation in higher education and how I believe Asian universities are in the perfect position to lead the way to ensure higher education becomes more suitable for the demands of the 21st century societies.
When it comes to research, all universities recognise that success requires being cutting edge, experimental, pushing boundaries and following curiosity. Yet, when it comes to teaching and learning, most higher educators (luckily with a few inspiring exceptions) seem to be on auto-pilot. Teaching just follows the models of previous centuries. Despite the dramatic changes to modern day society and its globalised high-speed economies, teaching resists change, almost sleep-walking in a clearly marked out comfort zone. The most exciting innovation of the moment is MOOCs (massive open online courses) which, when actually considered objectively, is a rather minimal addition to the way we teach. More radical initiatives are needed if we want to ensure that especially higher education is leading the way in the social and economic development of the decades to come.
Asian societies are, compared with other societies, in a strong position to embrace innovative forms of higher education. First of all, there is a much higher level of appreciation for the value of higher education in the developing knowledge economies. South Korea in itself is a dramatic showcase, when looking at OECD statistics. Its investment in higher education – interestingly via a higher education sector that is 80 percent private, 20 percent public – has really paid off in terms of prosperity. But maybe even more important than the Confucian valuing of education is the overall attitude in society: one of optimism, ambition, opportunity focused rather than trying to defend acquired positions and privileges. It is such a cultural attitude that should provide a fertile ground for innovation. All that is needed is to have the confidence to go beyond copying established patterns – as in other sectors companies like Samsung has been able to do.
Elsewhere I have already highlighted what I believe to be the three main areas that require innovation. To summarise:
1) The quickly globalising societies and their economies require truly global graduates with global mind-sets, multi-cultural teamwork and leadership skills, international networks. The current commitment to internationalisation falls well short of what is needed and what is possible. Higher education should engage positively with the globalisation process, national systems are still too much driven by protectionism – explicitly or implicitly – and should open up to transnational opportunities in higher education, even though this can be difficult (innovation is never easy). Employers should be much more -directly involved, opening up work-placement opportunities across borders. E-learning can play a significant role as well, if done properly, with students across countries and cultures interacting.
2) Current classroom time is still wasted a lot on knowledge acquisition; this can be done much more effectively through e-learning (if done properly), allowing contact time to facilitate experiential learning. In higher education today real-world experiential learning is treated too often as an option, put in the margin of the learning process, whilst in fact it should be at the very centre of it. More important than knowledge is the ability of young people ‘to learn how to learn’, through reflective learning, through integrating experience in the safe environment of the classroom before entering that real world. Understanding how to use knowledge, analytical and interpersonal skills in real situations are key success factors for later in life. With entrepreneurship and leadership, it is the task of the educator to develop these qualities, to hone and nurture them in students. The idea that the primary task is to ensure graduates have enough knowledge at the age of 22 to last for a life time is completely outdated given the way our societies are developing. A radical reinvention of teaching and learning is called for.
3) Graduation is not the end, but only a milestone on a road that shifts from experience-integrated learning to learning-integrated experience. A major focus of universities should be in facilitating career progression and career changes. Given the way our knowledge-based societies are developing, is the need for universities to embrace the fourth tier, rather than stay stuck in the tertiary sector.
Obviously this modernisation/innovation agenda applies to all societies and all higher education. However, as I stated during my speech, my gut feeling is that especially large parts of Asia are in a perfect opportunity to be receptive to this call. Moreover, indication so far has it that the private sector is keener to act on what it perceives as opportunities than public-funded institutions. In fact, that was the subject of the QS square debate – a highly entertaining discussion about private versus public sector institutions as the future dominant force in the Asian region.
The colleges that are part of the Global University Systems, including LSBF, should challenge themselves to lead in that innovation process, in Asia (particularly via LSBF Singapore) and globally. Being located in the middle of large cities, we can make sure that London is our students’ classroom – or Manchester, Birmingham, Singapore, Toronto, Hannover, etc. Thus we can move experience to the core of our teaching model. Having InterActive Pro as part of our group, we are in a position to blend online via face-to-face. And, of course, few organisations are more cosmopolitan and more global in their mindsets than ours. Like our colleagues in Asia, all we need is the confidence to lead the way in higher education innovation.
With a career spanning 25 years as an international educator and pioneer in the globalisation of education, Professor Maurits Van Rooijen is an economic historian and the CEO and Rector of LSBF.