As a leading expert in online education, Ray Schroeder brings an unmatched depth of knowledge and passion for advancing the field. He’s the current associate vice chancellor for online learning and founding director of the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service at the University of Illinois Springfield. He’s also the founding director of the National Council for Online Education at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association.
With decades’ worth of related observation and experience, Ray is a respected curator, consultant, speaker, and author with tremendous insight when it comes to the future of education. And in this episode of Leading Learning, Celisa talks with Ray about the evolving role of learning businesses, continuing education, and online learning— particularly when it comes to workforce development issues and the skills gap. They also discuss how advances related to artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, badges, blockchain and more are impacting the future of learning.
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Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa interviews Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning and founding director of the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service at the University of Illinois Springfield and founding director of the National Council for Online Education at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association.
[02:13] – Introduction to Ray.
An Increase in Demand for Online, Continuing & Professional Education
[04:07]- In “Five Key Trends for Professional and Continuing Education Leaders in the Next Five Years” you assert that continuing education, professional development, and online programs have become of central importance to traditional universities, though they started at the periphery. What are the broad strokes of the changes that have caused this move from the periphery to the center?
Ray shares how the focus has changed so dramatically in the in the last 25 years where it used to all about the “traditional” high school graduate. But the student population has evolved and there have also been other changes. He sees these changes as a virtual Venn diagram with three intersecting circles:
- Student demand– students today are demanding results from their investment in higher education—and they’re paying far more than ever (student debt is around $1.5 trillion in the US). So students want to see results in terms of employment, careers, and salaries.
- Employer demand– employers today say that the graduates of today are falling short in a number of areas – notably communication skills, computational skills, leadership, creative thinking and critical thinking. And they are really looking for us to fill those gaps so the new hires can start right away.
- University enrollment drops– for eight straight years now, enrollment at colleges and universities has dropped across the country. And there still has been growth but it’s been in online and with the non-traditional students. So universities are seeking new enrollment areas. It’s no longer just the high school graduate, but increasingly the lifelong learner – or the “60 year learner” (coined by Hunt Lambert of Harvard).
As these three changes all combine, university administrators see that most of their learners are ones they have not been serving well. So, they are pulling in the online, continuing and professional education units to the mainstream to put an emphasis on that growth area.
The lifelong learner – “the 60 year learner” – is a phenomenon that is really taking hold. With tech advances across our economy, we are seeing much more rapid job expirations, on the order of every five years. So these employees need to upskill and update continuously if they’re going to be continuously employed.
And, as we approach the 100 year life expectancy, we can expect that people will increasingly continue in to work into their 70s and 80s so there’s an expansion over time of the need for this continuing professional online service to employees.
See our related episode regarding what we refer to as “the other 50 years”, The New Learning Landscape: Two Shifts and a Gap.
[09:38] – What’s your take on workforce development issues and the role of learning businesses—continuing ed programs at academic institutions, associations, training companies, edupreneurs—what should these types of organizations be doing in addressing those workforce development issues?
Ray asserts that workforce development is “job one” for all of these types of organizations and this is what he refers to as the Morrill Act of the 21stcentury. Back in 1864, The Morrill Act set up land grant institutions. The concept was to have institutions provide education for agriculture, engineering, mechanical and other “useful” professions—and he says that’s where we are now but we’re doing it electronically, digitally, and in a concerted way.
Ray talks about how taxpayers, prospective students/their families, and employers are demanding this. And how we integrate this rapidly changing economy and the infusion of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and emerging technologies into our economy as well as how we keep our skilled workers prepared for that, constantly evolving with the advancements.
If we fail, Ray points out there are hundreds of alternatives out there and this is where the savvy entrepreneur/edupreneur can really take a leap. He references, “A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College” by Ryan Craig about how there are better alternatives coming to the traditional general education four-year program.
And he shares there’s now a website called Alternatives to College with 200 examples of ways to get a good job without a college education.
Ray also recently posted a link to a site that lists 16 non-degree certificates leading to jobs that start at $70,000 or above (that’s $20,000 more than the average college graduate).
And, then Ray talks about how there are the growing number of companies that no longer require the baccalaureate for employment. So, if higher education – particularly the universities – want to continue to hold a leading role in preparing the workforce, they need change and become agile and responsive to the needs of the employers.
[14:32] – If your learning business is looking for a partner to help you execute on the choices you’re making about how to best serve your learners, we encourage you to check out our sponsor.
CommPartners helps learning businesses conceive, develop, and fulfill their online education strategy. Their solutions begin with Elevate LMS, an award-winning learning platform that provides a central knowledge community and drives learner engagement. To extend the value of Elevate, CommPartners provides a wide range of online education services including curriculum design, instructional design, fully managed Webinars, Webcasts, livestream programs, and virtual conferences.
AI, Virtual, and Augmented Reality
[15:21]- You recently moderated a panel at the IMS Global Leadership Institute called “Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Education?” So, what’s the answer—is AI the future of education, yes or no?
Ray says the short answer is yes and that AI is already playing a key role. He talks about how it’s such a broad field but he points out that AI is providing a prominent role on working with big data—and there’s been a big emphasis on really using data-driven decision making in higher education. So AI allows us to handle larger data sets, to make accurate predictions based on trends in those data sets, and to learn from its prior predictions. This can be used related to selecting students, placing students, and/or informing advisors of strengths/weaknesses.
But, more directly in the teaching and learning process Ray explains how AI is playing a role in the future of education:
- AI is the engine for adaptive learning and allows for each student to get a personalized learning experience.
- Virtual teaching assistants – Ashok Goel, a professor at Georgia Tech developed Jill Watson Intelligent tutors, an AI program that answers the questions of the students. Ray says the importance of having a “smart” program as a teaching assistant is enormous and saves the faculty members time. And Goel is developing this so it can be affordable on different platforms (not just Watson) so that commercial entities, middle schools, high schools, colleges, etc. can afford to have this kind of system, which really makes teaching more efficient. See video below.
- AI chat boxes for advising, tutoring, and scheduling
- Academic advising
- Intelligent assistants for both faculty and students. Ray talks about the potential role of personal assistants, particularly for students and how that may impact assignments such as writing a paper, which may not be the standard in the future of higher education. So we need to think about that and what our expectations are as technology continues to evolve.
Sponsor: AUTHENTIC Learning Labs
[23:23] – As Ray pointed out, AI is a major factor in data-driven decision. If you’re looking for help with data analytics, we suggest you check out our sponsor.
AUTHENTIC Learning Labs is an e-learning company that offers products and services to help improve your current investments in education. One key product is Authentic Analytics, a dedicated suite of visualization reports to help analyze and predict the performance of education programs. Organizations use Authentic Analytics to easily scan through volumes of data in intuitive visuals, chart performance trends, and quickly spot opportunities, issues, and potential future needs.
[24:10] – What are your thoughts on the future of virtual and augmented reality for learning?
Ray says there are many applications and talks about his experience serving on the technology advisory committee for the University of Nebraska Medical Center where they’re using VR to practice going operations. He also recently attended the fourth annual US-China Smart Education conference where developers from the two countries joined others in discussing AI, VR and augmented reality in higher education (see Ray’s blog post, VR, AR, AI Worldwide Perspectives to learn more).
Ray adds that VR and mixed reality has demonstrated success in the medical field and Carnegie Mellon particularly has been a leader in this field using technology to assist with anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, diagnoses, surgery and many other areas. And mixed reality has significant potential in the arts including design, history, sociology, architecture, and more where we can create environments – or recreate past environments – to help build understanding for our students. In doing so, they have a deeper cultural understanding as well as the architectural changes over the years.
As for distant students, Ray explains this is an area he’s most interested in and how a challenge has always been how to provide a laboratory experience. But what’s happening now is fewer and fewer industries truly have hands-on beakers and test tubes and more often they’re using a computer to titrate those chemicals together. This can certainly be replicated/emulated/simulated through augmented and virtual reality, which allows for virtual labs. And that opens up a new world for students who are seeking a degree/certificate/learning in fields like nursing, chemistry, etc. where otherwise it would be challenging to do it at a distance. So virtual labs are a big breakthrough and Ray sees a tremendous advantage for us as we move forward.
[28:03]- What do you see as some of the key cultural differences around the use of mixed reality for learning?
Ray explains that as we use mixed reality it’s about what we use as an example and how that resonates with the background and aspirations of our students as well as what environment they’re going to become employed in. And in those meetings with the representatives from China he saw a significant difference in the way in which they approached their development of programs.
He references, Amy Webb’s recent book, The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity, which features 6 American and 3 Chinese companies and their different approaches. Ray points out there aren’t just differences culturally with China, but they exist even within the US. For example, there are gender differences and when we look at AI and create algorithms, the scenarios presented by male programmers are different than those presented by women.
Badging, Blockchain, & Quantum Computing
[30:20] – What do you see as the possibilities for badging and blockchain? Will they supplement or replace current credentials?
Ray says he believes they are absolutely going to replace current credentials, certainly blockchain. And badging is a building block for blockchain. Badges provide more information to employers, graduate schools, etc. in detailing the experience that students document related to their learning and experience. But the big revolutionary difference that comes with blockchain is a secure ledger system that enables you to take your credentials and control them as well as add other experiences to them (with documentation).
See Ray’s recent blog post, Emergence of Blockchain where he examines the potential of blockchain in higher education. Essentially, blockchain will provide a secure ledger of student learning – including badged experiences and transcripts. The key aspect of the advent of blockchain in higher education is that it will put the transcript into the control of the student, rather than the university—and it will be secure and outlive the university.
[33:48] – When you think big picture about what’s on the horizon for learning in the coming five years or so, what most excites you?
Ray shares that he’s fascinated with quantum computing and how what now takes a supercomputer 30 years to complete will take less than a day on a quantum computer. It’s 10,000 times faster than the fastest computers we have today. And there’s this phenomenal aspect where qubits can be entangled so that if you do something to one, it happens to the others. A recent experiment was done by sending some entangled qubits into space and they found these changes happened 10,000 times faster than the speed of light. Another aspect of quantum computing is that it’s secure.
This also means that we’re going to be able to more completely serve the individual student and reach that holy grail of personalized learning as we use it to drive adaptive learning.
See Ray’s blog post, Quantum Leap Into the Future of Education.
Curation and Learning
[36:23] – You put out a lot of content on a daily basis on an array of social media and blog sites, and you have thousands of followers and readers, and a lot of what you’re doing is sharing and curating. What’s your view of curation in the context of learning?
Ray talks about how when he was teaching a graduate seminar in the late 80s/early 90’s on emerging technologies in the electronic media, one of the challenges he had was that students were not able to come up with good articles to critique. So he began a list serve, and then moved that to Pyra Labs Blogger (later purchased by Google). As the students graduated, he realized they didn’t unsubscribe and they continued to follow the blog, which made him realize this was something that was broadly useful.
So he’s expanded this a bit and now has five blogs (below). Every day he goes through about 150 articles, news releases, publications, etc. and selects three in each category that are important to him. And note there is no advertising or spam.
Ray’s daily curated reading list blogs (which can also be found on https://rayschroeder.com):
- Professional, Continuing and Online Education Update: https://continuingedupdate.blogspot.com/
- Online Learning Update: https://people.uis.edu/rschr1/onlinelearning/blogger.html/
- Recession Reality in Higher Education: https://recessionreality.blogspot.com/
- Educational Technology: https://people.uis.edu/rschr1/et/blogger.html/
- UIS Open Educational Resources: https://uisoerblog.blogspot.com/
[39:28]- What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Ray reflects that there have been so many including those at UPCEA. But, most recently, he shares that it would have to be when he attended the Fourth Annual US-China Smart Education Conference because of the deep discussions focused on the future of AI and higher education.
[40:34] – How to connect with Ray and/or learn more:
- Website: https://www.rayschroeder.com
[41:22] – Wrap-Up
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[43:12] – Sign off