Future for higher ed: full-stack or a la cart?


Getting Smart, an edtech thinktank and consultancy, today came out with a small treatise on the current state of higher education. In sum: unless a university name has serious cache (think Ivy League), current practices will effectively bankrupt most higher education institutions in the next 15 years. There are various micro-reasons for this – bloated back offices, unattainable facility standards, diminishing freshman classes – but ultimately it boils down to high costs and low ROI.

The author, Ryan Craig, goes on to articulate what educators have been quietly shouting for years: “higher education may be the most complex product or service purportedly designed for mass consumption.”

The current higher education model entails increasingly unwieldly experiences and inconsistent user outcomes.

The way forward

Where to go from here? Clearly, major reformation is in order. Drawing from models in product and information delivery, two contenders come to mind:

Full-stack: University as a highly structured end-to-end learner experience. Based upon user experiences devised by wrap-around services and products like Apple and Uber, student experiences would be holistic like never seen before. Robusmt on-boarding roadmaps, streamlined interfacing with instructors and advisors, and readily incorporated feedback would be central foci.

A la cart: University as an agile, on-demand experience. Based upon lean, outcome-oriented services like Kayak and Ebay. This model of learning is already being implemented with efficacy in the tech skills world by coding bootcamps like General Assembly; pick your content, skill up, connect with mentors, and perfect those skills.

Where to watch

Will these models become prevalent? Only time will tell. But Craig points out the increasingly mobile-first habits of incoming freshman. Effective integration of services for mobile users could be a big determinant as to if truly full-stack and/or a la cart approaches take off. Case in point: if course advisory services are not accessible to full-stack students on-the-go, the model fails to meet users where they’re at, thereby failing the holistic experience litmus test.

As competency-based education models like Western Governor’s University process more cohorts, it will be interesting to see in which direction the learning models shifts. Will learner feedback drive demand for spare, just-in-time learning experiences and, with it, lower price points? Or will retention rates and post-graduate placement drive a more hands-on and holistic learning experience model?