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Can I sit next to you, Son?

Recently, a lot of ink has been spent writing on the bankruptcy proceedings for “Toys R Us”, a US based toys’ retailer, that fueled the fancy of many children’s dreams with its premise of being a toys’ wonderland. The bottom-line has been that the chain could not compete on price and unlimited variety that Amazon could provide. But, Toys R Us is not alone. There are about 42 national chains in the US that have shut down or are in the process, thanks to the unlimited window front, discounts and efficiency that Amazon provides.

Actually, Amazon is mentioned as a threat by a growing number of industries. Its aggressive nature of entering an industry, and then dropping prices till everyone else starts hurting and gives up, has caused fear in the minds of all established industry players that were getting lazy.

 

However, I feel that Amazon is only one strong proponent of the power of the internet. Some player or the other will emerge to disrupt and take away all the profits attributed to only transactions. In the education space, this can mean specific lessons – coaching classes, skill classes, or even certificates, diplomas and degrees. With the advent of the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or websites like Masterclass.com, the ability to access the best teachers has reached all corners of the globe – literally, anyone with a decent Internet connection.

 

So, am I predicting the demise of colleges – absolutely not! There are enough reasons for them to not go away in a hurry – our own mindset is the biggest one. As decision-makers who have grown up in a not-so-connected world, we will struggle with accepting unconventional methods of learning, and therefore not give in without a fight. The Government jobs will continue to ask for specific certifications, regulations will be brought in, the academic associations will fight back, quality control will be tom-tom’ed, etc. I leave the fightback at all levels to your imagination.

 

However I am still focused on their changing nature – the transactional-level information-imparting role being delivered more efficiently online, while colleges become centers of experience – flipped classrooms, personalized learning plans, self-directed learning, etc. where the focus is on “assimilation of information” and deriving meaning. Colleges will become more like co-learning spaces, where experts and students will interact and network while the administration’s role will be to ensure availability of resources (aka Ask Jeeves).

 

We are at the cusp of educational revolution. I predict that within the next ten years, the very nature of education would change with an increased focus on experiences. There are already conversations about students declaring a Mission instead of choosing a Major (www.stanford2025.com). New formats like hackathons, increased importance of internships and real-life experiences is all pointing to the value of ‘experiences’ in education. No wonder that an increasingly higher percentage of people choose to ‘drop’ a year after XII standard and gain ‘experiences’ before joining their undergraduate courses.

 

So, should we as more experienced people worry about our roles? Well, I would say no. Experience teaches us a lot, and so we need to take on the role of experts in some domains, while that of students in others. Imagine the joy of working and learning something new alongside your kid, who maybe your teacher too!

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