The College of the Future

One-size fits all education doesn't work; it must yield to data-driven adaptive learning.

One-size fits all education doesn’t work; it must yield to data-driven adaptive learning.

As someone with 2 children in college, I welcome President Obama’s free tuition proposal. College tuition is a financial hurdle that becomes, in many cases, a debilitating family debt burden. Will free tuition get more kids to college? As sure as free training has filled MarkLogic developer classes.

As some have pointed out, tuition is not the whole problem with higher education. My 2 kids are in very different colleges. One of them is in a community college with about 20,000 students, and the other is in a small liberal arts college with about 800 students.

My child in community college commutes to campus and battles for a parking space. The workload is heavy, and school is not easy. She’s in community college because her learning disabilities make a liberal arts college (her other choice), with its focus on reading complex texts and writing detailed essays, a dauntingly inappropriate learning environment.

And yet…

So many aspects of the liberal arts college, where her sibling attends, would be interesting to her, and would inspire her, who knows how?

And the liberal arts college, for all of its innovation, neglects to provide some foundational instruction my other child has somehow missed.

So I picture a hybrid college, where both children can thrive.

It’s a small leap to imagine a completely customized learning program for each child, with ad hoc access to content, instruction and internship in the labor market.

Tailored Education

In fact at the latest SIIA Education Business Forum in New York, where I had the fun and privilege of participating in a technology standards panel, many dynamic young companies showcased personalized learning solutions that tailor curricula to individual students, and align that curricula to industry. The transcript of the future? It’s more than just GPA, and it’s here. Tin Can is just one transcript standard that provides a protocol and data model to accommodate all of a student’s learning experience. The standard can easily be extended to mash up employment, assessment scores, diplomas, and class completion certificates.

Using standards like this, educators can get an overview of a student’s entire educational career and recommend new courses to fill gaps, or make suggestions to industry about candidates for jobs or internships.

As I write, MarkLogic powers Tin Can systems and helps the largest educational content publishers provide the right content to the right students at the right timeBut standards can’t address the goals of student engagement and return on education without data. Let’s think about the data educators need to create the college of the future:

But standards can’t address the goals of student engagement and return on education without data. Let’s think about the data educators need to create the college of the future:

  • Addressable or “chunkable” content; less astronomy books than paragraphs on “Goldilocks Planets” and less psychology texts than sections on the meaning of fairy tales
  • The taxonomies and ontologies that differentiate the Goldilocks of planets from the Goldilocks of the 3 bears
  • Rules that define learning paths through the content
  • Labor skills profiles that map to learning paths
  • Geographical information about the labor market

All of this data (and more than I could list here) is from different sources, and in different formats. And all of it needs to be updated in real-time, with security and consistency.

The platform that can do that is MarkLogic. MarkLogic is and has been the data foundation for the college of the future.

My “liberal arts” child writes an educational plan to submit to his school’s advisors and administrators. There are no traditional majors at his school. Its guiding principle is “Do not take the world as you find it. Make the world you want.” So my son’s plan describes, in narrative essay form, the subjects he wants to study over the next two years, and why. Perhaps it includes specific courses he wants to take or internships he wants to pursue.

Every other student also creates and submits a plan.

In the aggregate, that collection of student plans contains data that would be invaluable to the college’s administration as it forecasts everything from instructional hiring to dorm rooms.

By importing FAFSA and even simple GA data and correspondence between students’ families and the financial aid office, the school could predict and intervene for higher student retention across the lifespan of the plans.

MarkLogic can enable this today — along with the privacy and regulatory constraints such sensitive data would bring along with it. A

And MarkLogic has more to offer with data that’s’ available today. By creating a small working ontology that links semantic concepts in student plans to industry skill profiles, the school could target companies and publications for professional internships that support the plans. Naturally those internships could be geographically mapped.

My community-college child has her own degree-planning needs. Her community college offers associate degrees with various electives and pre-requisites. She has a hard time assembling a list of courses that satisfy the pre-requisites and advance her toward her professional goals in music production. This could be solved today with an LMS (Learning Management System) that is better at visualizing her learning path.

However what about the serendipitous, inspirational benefits we all want our children to get from college? How can a community college enable that? Here’s one idea: import class descriptions and metadata to MarkLogic, enrich with semantic concepts, and build interest graphs students can traverse during pre-registration. Queries across the graphs can be constrained with learning paths derived from personalized degree-planning information.

Additionally, those parking spaces I mentioned earlier can be reorganized with geo-spatial analysis.

The College of the Future? Let’s build it today on MarkLogic.