SXSWEdu: Students in Higher Ed: New Student Normal

Provost Robert Groves from Georgetown explained that Georgetown puts strong value behind a brick and mortar, physical face-to-face with faculty type instruction. Good news: there will always be a percentage of the student body and of the marketplace that needs this type of education. Other good news: our student population and marketplace needs are diversifying, and we have an opportunity to diversify our education support all students wanting to learn. Thankfully, we have some clarity around how our student types are diversifying. There are three main elements that help us understand student needs, which can help us better architect learning to support them: student learning goals; student psycho-social goals; and factors that influence student lifestyle.

1. Student Learning Goals

George Tang, Make Milliron, Parimender Jassel, and Ray Martinez outlined the typical student learning goals in their panel Students in Higher Education: the New Student Normal:

  • Students looking to sustain: keep themselves relevant in their fields.
  • Students looking to advance: want to challenge themselves into new roles/ways, but within the same fields.
  • Students looking to change careers: those who want new direction in different fields. (This includes those students coming in directly from high school - they are looking to enter a different field.)
  • [I add “Renaissance” students who want to change their SELF: the rare bird who is looking to learn from a more humanistic standpoint; think Joseph Campbell. As these are the rarest type - and some argue that such motivation should be built into all students - I’ll focus on the first three.]

2. Student Psycho-Social Goals

The panel continued to outline two psycho-social goals of students - an important element that is too often overlooked, but equally important to understanding students. Although the two goals often blur, one is typically a larger driving force than the other:

  • To be part of the community: the emphasis here is on the process of learning
  • To have the degree: the emphasis here is on the product

3. Factors that Influence Student Lifestyle

Finally, external factors that directly pull or push our students (i.e. family needs, physical location, etc.). These factors are unique to each student, but we can see common themes:

  • Time frame - aka Time to Degree. How long students are willing to spend longterm for the education.
  • Assembly of time - How the time students can dedicate to the classroom is assembled or distributed within their life.
  • Resources - This includes everything from technology to emotional support. The environment in which students life will always influence their success.
  • Demands - How education fits into their priorities.

The intersections of those three things provide a foundation to help an institution architect the delivery of the educational experience. Given such variance, we find new needs for educational delivery arising.

This is where I think it’s foolish of us to assume that what works for any one university will work for every institution. For some students, the physical face-to-face, 4 year full-time on campus is exactly what the student needs. However, the percentage of students who fall into that contingency is no longer the majority. It's important to find what's right for your institution, your student population, and the market you serve.