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What will universities monetize in the future?

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.


  1. Howard wrote:

    George, I don’t think it’s in assessments, if anything it might be in relationships. Companies could depend on their own assessments (at least regarding traditional assessment practices). A new practice is to request only job applicants from top tier universities. They may want top tier expertise, but it’s likely that they are just using this practices like an intellectual assessment. Adaptive learning could be a value add, but how long before it is completely automated.
    What can’t be automated is the way an instructor can apprentice their student. Point out the contours of the horizons of disciplinary expectations. Establish joint obligations, rights, responsibilities and privileges necessary to proceed toward a non-linear future. This perspective considers a deeper sense of practice; for instance, to conceive of measurement practices in a way that is ontologically responsibly; “in a way that respects the “being” of those others, a way in which those others are, so to speak, able to see themselves” (Shotter, 1993, Cultural Politics of Everyday Life p. 149).
    Of course this requires a deep connectivist ontology. If teachers are primarily mechanistic, should we not expect machines to replace them.

    Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  2. I completely agree. IMO the rigour and consistency of assessment should form a significant factor in gauging the reputation of a higher education institution. As content becomes increasingly freely available and, as you say, teaching becomes more free and open then assessment is left as the core function that universities can monetize.
    Unfortunately, my experience at multiple traditional universities is that (for the most part) assessment is unimaginative, inconsistent and actually not very good at assessing the learner. There is a huge amount of work to do in raising standards and it’s quite possible that universities will miss out to organisations that are capable of proving the necessary rigour and consistency that will attract learners.

    Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Can you tell me more about the US “we don’t like” list? Which countries are there to which US universities don’t send learning?

    Friday, March 14, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  4. gsiemens wrote:

    Darren: see here:

    Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  5. Sebastian 20mi wrote:

    It seams that the most important value point for higher education is assessment, is that the future? I think that we should be careful there, the trading of university degrees has grown into an economic bubble, there is an overestimation on the return on investment and people are buying them at a higher cost that its intrinsic value; the bubble will burst, trading will cease and the market will enter a recession.

    I don’t think that the current university economic model lies secure on assessment. We will see an increased access to alternative but rigorous and consistent assessment, and this may come both from online software of bio-signature tests and activities(with low duplication cost) and from in site credit granting processes. I think that self-publishing would also mine the grate value of assessment.

    Universities would succeed if they try to monetize the access to tools, labs, face to face activities, grate facilitators, personalized attention and to a comfortable, safe and stimulating environment.

    There is value behind the production of open, low cost duplication digital stuff. I don’t see a future if we keep trying to finance the “open” as a byproduct of an integration of services. We should feed with crowd-funding the building and refinement of the knowledge pool and the programming of software tools for mentor-ship, interaction and assessment.

    Sunday, March 16, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Permalink