The Future of Education and Research

One of my key tasks as Georgia State’s Chief Innovation Officer is to help answer the question What is the Future of Education and Research? I wish I could say after almost four months on the job that I had the exact and final answer to that question. However, I do not. It will be a journey and process to come to the ultimate answer. What I do know now and will share is How we will answer the question. In addition, I can provide some insights into what I believe will be the key attributes of the Future of Education and Research.

What is Education and Research?

First, let’s define the problem. Too often innovators and technologists get so distracted by a shiny new object that they jump to an answer before they even understand the question they are trying to answer.

So, what is education and research? As I discussed in my initial post, my definition of education is a transfer of knowledge between knowledge holders (professors) and knowledge seekers (students). Research is simply the creation of knowledge. Thus, the future of education and research should enhance the transfer of knowledge and creation of knowledge.

Disruptive Innovation

Many industries have been disrupted by technology. Higher education is just the latest, but not the last, industry being disrupted by factors like the Internet and mobile technologies. Disruptive innovation happens when entirely new technologies and business models are created. While many are, as I said earlier, distracted by the shiny-new-object syndrome, true disruption happens at the intersection of both new technologies and new business models.

Kodak, a former icon of American innovation, is a good example. Kodak created the photography industry. A “Kodak moment” became synonymous with capturing images of life’s most precious events. Yet, today, most college students would be hard pressed to say what a Kodak moment is. Kodak has been irrelevant for the entire 21st century, finally going bankrupt in early 2012. What happened to this historic institution? Kodak was disrupted, not once, but twice. First, Kodak was disrupted by Polaroid and instant photography in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Edwin Land, Polaroid’s founder, was the Steve Jobs of his day (and one of Steve Jobs’ heroes). Polaroid disrupted the traditional film industry through instant photos (new technology) and a better business model (no need to pay and wait for a studio to develop film into pictures). The knockout blow for all film-based photography, though, ultimately came from digital photography and the smart phone, led by the iPhone and Steve Jobs. Now photos are taken on a smart phone (new technology) and shared instantly (new business model) on Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat or whatever is the next popular social network.

Another great example of disruptive innovation, which is still underway, is in the banking industry. A decade ago, most experts would have said that brick-and-mortar bank branches were going away, replaced by the Internet and mobile banking. However, this did not happen. The major banks embraced these new, disruptive innovations and extended their banking relationship with consumers via the Internet and mobile. Now, as consumers and banks have become comfortable doing their banking using web browsers and mobile apps, we are seeing these innovations start to penetrate into the brick-and-mortar bank branch. Branches of the future are being built, replacing traditional teller counters with tablet-enabled tellers, who can move around the bank and come to customers. Video-conferencing and collaborative environments are being used to bring consumers closer to expert advisors from around the country.

By embracing these disruptions, many banks have been able to actually grow their businesses. Higher education can learn from the banking example. Institutions need to embrace the disruptions brought by new technologies, leveraging them to extend learning beyond the traditional classroom, with activities such as virtual office hours and classroom discussion. As students and educational institutions become comfortable with incorporating these new technologies into the learning process, we will see innovations transition into the classrooms, just as is happening within bank branches.

Key Attributes of the Future

So, how will new technology influence the future of education and research? Here are a few key attributes of what is possible today that could not have been accomplished as easily in the past.

  • Mass Customization – Through technology, consumers are able to choose what works for them and customize how it is packaged and delivered. Innovations in technology may allow learners to more easily choose which information is most relevant to their needs and how much assistance they receive.
  • Multi-Channel – Through technology, information can be conveyed by many delivery methods, including in-person and online, as well as in many forms, including text, image, audio, video, and even social conversation.
  • Multi-Disciplinary – The university of today is already more multi-disciplinary than ever before, with research centers crossing disciplines to make new discoveries. Technology can make it even easier to communicate across boundaries.
  • Global – Global communication, teaching and study are also easier than ever before, with students from countries across the world looking for broader sources of knowledge and professors able to reach them from almost anywhere.
  • Collaborative – Tools, and even physical spaces like labs, can make it easier for students and faculty to work together on projects.
  • Experiential – Flipped classes, makerspaces and hackathons are just a few of the new experiences available to help students learn through doing.
  • Entrepreneurial – In 2010, research at public universities led to 436 new startups, 2,654 technology licenses and 2,625 patents. Faculty at this university are already publishing mobile apps and sharing knowledge through new forms of technology, such as eTexts.
  • Holistic View of Student Success – Georgia State University is already making strides to ensure students succeed by helping them get clear feedback about how they are proceeding in their enrollment and funding. The real measure of our success will be how our students succeed in their careers.

Going from Bermuda to Golden Triangle

There are three elements we must explore to begin to identify a new model of education: Tools, Formats and Devices. These three elements have to work harmoniously together to create a new, future model . The tools to create compelling learning content must be easy to use. They must also produce formats that are engaging and effective for students. Finally, those formats must work flawlessly on student devices. Today, this is very often not the case. Currently, these three elements form the Bermuda Triangle of education.


Our focus is to define the right set of Tools, Formats and Devices to transform the vast set of options in the Bermuda Triangle into a Golden Triangle that can support the future of education and research at the university.

What are your thoughts? Send Phil a question or comment.