The College of the Future: Organizational Characteristics

As I have stipulated in the previous blogs, the specifics of organizational structure will “depend” on the function and program characteristics chosen by the college. In a very real sense, all of these elements – academic and support functions, staffing, and organizational structure – operate as the DNA of the college of the future. They must all support and reference each other. Regardless of the model selected, however, the college of the future will be organized around the learner/user experience just as surely as traditional colleges were organized around teaching and the campus experience.

The learner experience will be based on a digitized environment which, whether remote, campus-based, or blended, can be directly accessed by the learner and is focused on responding to the learner’s needs as swiftly and accurately as Amazon will respond to on-line shoppers in five years. This digitized environment will track with the learner from her first contact with the college, through the “on-boarding” process of application, enrollment, and academic planning, to the implementation of the learning plan and completion. Again, the observed learner experience will be the tip of the service ice berg, with all the other services – financial aid, registrar, learning resources, career services – one keystroke away and organized to support the learner’s program, goals, and progress. But the main point here is that, whether the teaching and learning activities are face-to-face, online, remote, or blended, the support activities will be digital and accessible 24/7.

A key challenge for the organizational structure of the college of the future will be finding effective ways to blend the digital experience with human interaction, associational experiences, throughout the learning journey. This cannot be left to chance because learning is a social as well as an intellectual activity. And while on a traditional campus, the student union was a known gathering spot, in the college of the future, the contacts and communications have to be accessible electronically. There will be “town squares”, where people can gather and converse, social and academic clubs to create community for learners, and study spaces where learners can gather to work on mutual learning projects. Whether these activities actually include face-to-face exposure, they will personalize the experience of learning, beyond the hands-on academic support that learners receive from the faculty and staff.

A critical ingredient in the organizational structure will be an Office of Innovation and Research, where new services are evaluated, tested, and then either implemented, amended, or discarded. The old notion of institutional research will simply not support the requirements of continuous improvement, renewal, and innovation. And to have a culture of innovation, a commitment to continuous renewal and improvement, based on data and research, is essential. The pace, cost, and requirements of change require a complete rethinking of managing innovation and implementation in partnership with an Office of Innovation and Research.

Finally, the college of the future will be networked, operating through partnerships with other businesses and organizations to deliver the seamless, digitized environment described above. Although this aspect of the organization will be more apparent to the college’s administration and staff, the ability of the college to keep its digital environment and user experience “up to date” and “current” will be critical. And that ability will be based on a careful appraisal of those functions the college wants to own and take responsibility for and those that they will contract for, such as Civitas, Heliocampus, Authess, InSideTrack, and Desire2Learn, to name only a very few. The pace of change and required investment to keep services current with ongoing improvement will lead to a far more horizontal and networked organizational structure going forward.

These core organizational elements – The DNA relationships with function and staffing, the right balance between technology and human interaction, an office of Innovation and Research, and networking with external resources – however, designed and applied, will characterize the organizational structure of the college of the future.


5 thoughts on “The College of the Future: Organizational Characteristics

  1. It all sounds rather robotic,contrived,and impersonal to me. I’m glad I experienced “pre-digitized” college,to tell you the truth. But, I expect there is no holding back “progress”, so carry on progressives, and good luck!


  2. I agree with Jim. Education is about more than a “learner experience” that you equate with buying a book on Amazon. Students are NOT consumers, nor are they products. Given the challenges in society, higher education must improve — of course. We must do some things differently. But automating everything so all students have everything electronically 24/7/365 is not an answer. I don’t want to be part of that factory, thank you.


    1. Happily, you will both have plenty of more traditional opportunities. The future will encourage multiple modes and people can choose the one they like or that is the best fit.


    1. You will see in my new book, “Free-Range Learning in the Digital Age” (SelectBooks, June 2018) a further development on this concept in the second section.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s