Universities do more than teach. Research is one of the most important activities of higher education. From the lens of students and society, however, the teaching and learning process and what it costs, is the primary focus.
The university economic and operational structure, in relation to educating learners, can be seen as consisting of three legs of a stool: content/curriculum, teaching, and assessment. The past decade has not been kind to higher education’s economic model as two legs of the stool – content and teaching – have started to move toward openness. Academic resources can now be found from top universities around the world. If I was tasked with designing a course from scratch, I would start by searching repositories, rather than creating any new content.
More recently, the teaching leg of the stool is seeing stress. Open online courses now make lectures of faculty from elite universities accessible to learners around the world (minus a few countries on the US “we don’t like” list).
This leaves assessment as the last leg of economic value. The badges and competency-based learning movement may challenge assessment, but at this point it remains reasonably secure.
What will universities do in the future to monetize their value? I offer the image below – instead of monetizing learning, content, and teaching, universities in the future will monetize assessment and the process of filling learner knowledge gaps. Content is largely free/open. Teaching is becoming more free/open. If something can be duplicated with only limited additional expense, it cannot serve as a value point for higher education. Creating personalized and adaptive learning processes that account for the personal knowledge graph of a learner is, and likely will continue, to be a source of value economically for universities.