With the Humboldtian ideal of higher education to some extent lost in marketisation, demands for instant application and a fetish for audits, it is questionable whether higher education is geared to excel in a new, brave world. Ironically, there are seeds in its ideals for success in the future for the individual as well as the student. Humboldt points towards “cultivation of the mind and character” and being “well-informed beings” as the foundation for the later, easy acquisition of vocational skills that allow movement from “one occupation to another1”.
For many years we have recognised that the world has changed and is changing. Yet higher education has not been at the forefront of that change – and certainly not spearheading it. Rather, it seems often reluctant, uncertain and not geared to lean in, experiment and learn along the way. It clings to the one differentiator that is hard for new initiatives to really challenge – accredited degrees – rather than take advantage of new technology and changing preferences. However, this may prove to be a temporary solution that will only momentarily suspend the need for innovation.
More and more people entering higher education have no desire to follow the beaten path. On the one hand they have been told since kindergarten that they should figure out what they really want to do so that they do not end up with a life that does not provide happiness. On the other, they have been told that they cannot count on anything, so it is essentially up to themselves anyway. Not everyone is equipped for such a premise. Yet some are, and more could be if we helped them.
Helping people become change-makers is not just a question of adopting new technologies such as MOOCs. It also requires re-thinking the role of the lecturer, what happens in the classroom and the necessary pedagogical approaches.
- Starting with the last of these – pedagogical approaches – we need to consider that we do not fully know what specific knowledge and what specific skillsets will be needed in the future. For sure, there are certain basics but many of the specifics we work towards today will probably not be utilised.
- As technology enables us to receive lectures and assignments, and take part in discussions and so on over long distances, there will be a need to utilise the fact that we have people in virtually same room for a number of years. If there is no need for classical lectures per se, then what?
- If the lecturer is not to teach, then what are they supposed to do? What would be the rationale for still having lecturers?
A timely approach to higher education would be to broaden the scope of its aspirations and engage in trying out new models and formats for research, education and dissemination. This does not mean giving up its higher ideals, but instead recognising its role as a maker of change. A few propositions could be:
- Orientate towards lifelong learning rather than mere educational programmes. Become the active learning partner for a person’s full life – stretching beyond the classroom and occupational knowledge and skills throughout the work life.
- Move beyond mere knowledge and skills. Competence, attitudes, networks and experiences are the keys to future value creation.
- Embrace, with a critical eye, new technology. It is not a panacea for all problems, but neither is it a poor alternative to classical education. It is feasibly an enabler for new forms of learning.
- Start viewing students as co-creators of their own education, their lecturers’ development and the progress of the institution itself.
- Our pedagogical models need to shift from teaching to facilitating and leading. This requires a new skillset and attitude.
If the future of education is learning, this surely goes way beyond institutional walls. Higher education will not go away in any likely future, but its prominence may be highly challenged. Serving that group of people requires new thinking and innovation from society – and those people who want to create the higher education of their future need to change their thinking and doing. Creating makers of change – change-makers – is not a project per se. It is something that likely will not stop. People will need to continuously grow and re-invent themselves to stay relevant and unique. Here the Humboldtian ideal lays a foundation for learning how to learn and how to adapt to changing circumstances.
As a lifelong learner, the change-maker can also be a life-long prosumer of education, provided higher education steps up to the task – including seeing the learner as a resource for educational design and giving them the mandate to co-create education.
1Berglar, P. (1970). Wilhelm von Humboldt, p. 87. and Günther, K. H. (1988). Profiles of educators: Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). Prospects, 18(1), 127-136.
Christer Windeløv-Lidzélius is the principal at Kaospilot, a renowned disruptor in higher education. Kaospilot is recognised by UNESCO, Fast Company, Monocle and BusinessWeek for challenging current practices by introducing highly innovative educational design that develops leadership and fosters entrepreneurship. Christer and his team are rewriting the rubrics and introducing new ways to advance people through practice. His area of research at Tilburg University and the Taos Institute evolves around strategy, leadership and innovation and he is also a guest professor at Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. Over the years he has served on several boards and been a member of different think-tanks in and outside of Denmark. For more than 15 years, he has been working in the fields of leadership, strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship. He has lectured and advised companies on 5 continents and worked in more than 25 countries for private companies, NGOs and public organisations alike. He also contributes to both international and Danish media.