Photo: Environmental portrait of William Clements, PhD, in the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies

The college campus no longer has a monopoly on how we learn. Dean of the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies Bill Clements, PhD, on the disruptions and opportunities ahead

We are in a transformative era for higher education. It is unlike any I have seen in my over 40 years as a student, professor, or dean. Online education is now pervasive, a reflection of broader changes in higher education that have increased access to what was previously only available on a university campus. In this country, there are now more than six million students who study online in whole or in part. That’s nearly a third of the 19 million students enrolled in higher education in our country today. Greater access has brought greater diversity, especially the significant number of adult students.

Today, fundamental forces are converging to alter the face of higher education, especially as technology continues to propel us into the future and accelerate change. Four billion people, half of the world’s population, now have access to the internet. Mobile technology accounts for more than half of that connectivity. The implications are profound. Access to knowledge and learning is now portable, and it is increasingly robust. Think about how the ways and environments in which we learn today have transformed. (I know my own first stop when trying to fix something is a five- to ten-minute YouTube video, which I find far more effective than an instruction manual.)

Technology is also driving changes in how we work, and as these ripple across professions, lifelong learning has become a necessity rather than a luxury. Some argue that non-degree credentials focused on industry-specific skills will progressively replace the university degree. I doubt this will be the case in the near future. But it is clear that certificates and other forms of learning will increasingly be required to remain relevant in one’s field and, equally likely, to prepare for transition into a new career. It’s no surprise that enrollment in non-degree credentials, such as coding boot camps, continuing education, or even massive open online courses, has grown rapidly and shows no signs of abating.

At CGCS, a sizable number of our students enroll in online programs to speed their progress within their organization or field or to transition to a new career. I expect this trend will accelerate significantly over the next decade and beyond.

The emerging role of artificial intelligence across many domains, including higher education, will also play a key role, driving the need to learn, adapt, and redefine how we contribute to our companies or organizations. While we often hear about the jobs that artificial intelligence will replace, the bigger story is the as yet defined jobs and roles that AI will create.

I find I am shifting my vocabulary to refer to our “learners” rather than “students,” because the former is more inclusive and represents who we will serve in the future.

What does this mean for Norwich and, more specifically, our online College of Graduate and Continuing Studies? NU’s new strategic plan, Norwich University After Next (NUaN), outlines key initiatives. Among them is the addition of new online programs in high-demand areas, such as data and business analytics, computer science, information systems, forensic ac¬counting, and advanced nurse practitioner specializations. All are set to launch later this year or in early 2021. Programs relevant to the economy and strength of our nation are important and consistent with our mis¬sion as a university. The future requires that we continually review offerings and develop programs to meet the needs of our students, industry partners, and government. I expect new interdisciplinary programs and continual evolution in content and how it is delivered—especially to include creative mobile approaches.

The trend toward lifelong learning is also important and has resulted in the creation of Norwich Pro, the professional and continuing education arm of CGCS. While the unit is new and continuing to grow, the response from Norwich alumni has been outstanding, affirming the need for lifelong learning. I also envision a future where Norwich graduates will have many more opportunities to return to develop new skills, keep abreast of current trends, and continue their learning journey across their working life. The continued evolution of mobile technology will be a catalyst in this endeavor for adaptive learning, expanded access to knowledge, and in how we communicate.

Given the trends in higher education, CGCS recently established an office in Den¬ver, Colo. As online technology erodes the barriers of time and distance, the Denver location will allow us to better serve our learners on the West Coast and beyond, offer greater visibility for the university, and provide access to one of the high-growth urban areas in the country.

It is exciting to be part of the transformation underway in higher education, recognizing the need for lifelong learning. It is even more exciting that Norwich can have an important role in shaping the future.

Former criminal justice professor Bill Clements, PhD, is vice president and dean of the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies.

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