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Higher Education Predictions for 2013

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Higher education is in the midst of a creative disruption.

It's about time.

Six months ago, I challenged my company and the entire higher education industry to create a more compelling, completely digital learning experience for students within 36 months. Since then, we've made a lot of progress toward this so-called "digital deadline."

But creating more innovative learning materials is merely the beginning. Just about everything in higher education -- from distribution channels to business models to the very way teaching and learning is happening -- is changing, and changing fast.

With so many major developments behind us and surely more ahead, I'd like to offer my predictions for what we'll see in the world of higher education in 2013.

1. MOOCs are going to move from a subcultural fascination to a mainstream phenomenon.

Hands down, MOOCs (massively open online courses) were the hottest trend in education in 2012, bringing access to higher education to students around the world by offering free online courses to large numbers of students.

But while MOOCs are on the brain of every instructor, college administrator, learning company and ed tech enthusiast -- and if they're not, they should be -- they're still unknown to many who are pursuing or are thinking of pursuing a higher education degree. And that's a shame.

Fortunately, that won't be the case for long. The enrollment numbers of MOOCs are truly staggering -- Coursera, for example, is famously growing faster than Facebook -- and that curve will continue in 2013. While many MOOCs are still shaping their models, I think that over the coming year we'll see them start to partner with colleges and universities, learning companies, and start-ups in an effort to overcome their challenges and become a true alternative to more traditional forms of higher education.

What's next? Employers are going to start to take notice.

As someone who leads an organization of more than 1,000 employees, I can say that more and more employers are going to start looking more positively at prospective hires and current employees who have taken a MOOC course as part of their ongoing education or professional development. In business, differentiation is the name of the game, and right now there's no better way to signal that you're taking your development seriously than by taking a MOOC. It's another way that the best are going to set themselves apart.

2. Adaptive learning systems will be used in every higher education institution across the country.

2012 was the breakout year for adaptive learning: a number of adaptive products hit the market, and McGraw-Hill Education's own adaptive learning study tool reached two important milestones: 1 million unique student users and 1 billion questions answered. To put those in context for you, those are the ed tech equivalent of McDonalds-level numbers. All of this data has taught us a lot about how students learn and about the type of impact that adaptive learning can have on student performance.

In 2013, we're going to see personalized learning through adaptive technology truly come of age. I think that by the end of the year, adaptive learning systems will be in use at every higher education institution across the country, mostly for one good reason: the results just can't be ignored.

I also think you're going to see adaptive learning move beyond the realm of course study tools to impact many new areas of the student learning experience. Now, that's an easy thing to predict given that at CES this year, we unveiled a full suite of adaptive learning products designed to personalize things like reading, lab work, and before-the-course preparation.

Over the next 12 months, I expect that we'll see the fully adaptive, personalized course move from the "flying cars" realm of things you hear about but never see to something that's actually in practice.

3. The rise of the ultra low-cost, high-quality college degree

While what the MOOCs are doing deserves everyone's attention, I don't believe that they're the panacea that some are hoping they might be. Fortunately, a number of other alternatives on the way, and I think you'll begin to see some of those in 2013. A $15,000, four-year accredited college degree -- or something close to it -- may sound like a pipe dream, but it's something you're going to see -- and a lot sooner than you think.

Don't get me wrong, there will always be room for residential, four-year higher education -- and in some ways, it offers an experience that can't be replicated. But the model for higher education in this country requires major repairs, and MOOCs will only be one tool in the toolkit.

*The reason why I think these things are going to happen is not just because, as a father of four young kids, I want them to, or because they're things my company is involved with, it's because they need to happen, and happen now, to ensure the future of higher education in this country and around the world.

Change has a funny way of finding industries on the precipice. With the amount of debt our students are saddled with and the fact that an alarming number of graduates don't have the skills employers are looking for, it's hard to argue that in the world of higher education, we're not at the edge -- or at least close to it.

Despite all of the challenges facing us, and maybe in some ways because of them, I'm more optimistic about higher education than I've ever been before. We must continue on a path of creative disruption, and I think the best way forward is to starting treating these predictions more like resolutions.