Is Higher Education Ready?

Denise Kay, Assistant Professor of Medical Education at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, is no stranger to the changing landscape of education and the resulting demand from students who will want a drastically different learning experience to meet their unique needs.

While Denise often speaks to education-specific audiences about her passion, such as the International Association of Medical Science Educators Conference, she came to us with the desire to influence adjacent audiences who will impact the future of learning. As a TFS alumna, we worked closely with her through The Future Speaks program to expand the reach of her thought leadership with a pitch to Association for Talent Development 2020 International Conference & Expo. She was successful in articulating the value of her message, and will present an educational session in May on, “Students of the Future: Is Higher Education Ready?”.

Below is content straight from her pitch with an abstract on the topic and specifics she will cover during the session:

In 2016, Gallop poll results reported by Education Week highlighted a drop in student engagement across the educational spectrum. While higher education has utilized technology to offer students more variety for class formats and instructional approaches, this response has been primarily reactive, both to the introduction of new technologies that make it possible, but also to the need to remain competitive in attracting students and subsequently, student dollars.

Historically, higher education generated its own momentum. The value of higher education was clear, as individuals with degrees were more likely to secure jobs or to establish a career that allowed them to live in reasonable comfort. However, beyond the formal education route to achieving financial success, youth of today are also exposed to ‘side gigs’ and individuals who have gained wealth and success without a college or, even at times, a high school degree. For some, even secondary education seems irrelevant. Youth today are realistically weighing any potential value of higher education against the cost, subsequent potential for debt accumulation, and equitable job prospects.

With increasing costs and declining student enrollment, postsecondary institutions face new financial challenges. At risk institutions seek new avenues to maintain financial sustainability by merging with other institutions or making drastic changes to educational programs. These responses, though admirable, remain steeped in an educational model crafted more than a century ago. In response to changes at the institution level, as well as declines in both student enrollment and engagement, postsecondary faculty have reformatted curricula and courses, and expanded their curricular design and instructional approaches. However, while faculty have achieved a level of expertise in their discipline, they may have little to no formal training in educational theories or in curriculum and instructional design. Too often, their teaching approaches mirror the present or even outdated educational approaches they experienced as students. These approaches are likely at odds with current and future best practices. The tenure of the faculty may also influence their perceptions of the identity and needs of today’s students, and also students of the future.

When we explore these questions through the constraints we face today (financial, competition, and otherwise), we naturally create a persona of this future student that looks very similar to what we know today. Without exposure to new information or challenges to our current assumptions and biases, we project the future through our blinders of today. We view the 21st century environment of volatility, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity as a barrier rather than a landscape of opportunity.

In this interactive session, we leverage strategic futures thinking tools to remove these blinders and understand how seemingly disparate information will impact higher education, identifying

implications and widening our perspectives. As a result, we more effectively build the persona of the future student and define features of relevant, meaningful and high yield learning experiences.

Practicing the art and science of unlearning and relearning, participants will collectively develop ‘personas’ of the future student and determine the adequacy of both today’s adult learning theories and student engagement methodologies for meeting the needs of the future student.

How will participants get exposed to new, external information? They will utilize trend cards, a primary futures thinking tool. Trend cards highlight research in various domains, including society, technology, economics, environment, and policy. Trend cards define the trend and provide examples of how the trend is gaining momentum across various industries. Using trend cards, participants will connect assorted trends and identify both potential outcomes and implications of combined trends to higher education. With this information, participants will develop ‘personas’ or characterize identities of the students of the future. Considering their student of the future, they will then:

  1. Evaluate the level for which current adult learning theories and student engagement practices align with both the persona and needs of the ‘future student.’
  2. Propose the potential implications that this level of alignment or misalignment may have for higher education.
  3. Evaluate the potential implications of this alignment or misalignment in terms of the participant’s role in their institution.

The Future Speaks program is a unique apprenticeship that pairs TFS alumni with diverse conference speaking opportunities. With a database of hundreds of global events to choose from and over a decade of pitching experience, TFS serves as your conference concierge, helping you achieve your foresight thought leadership and development goals. Email us for more information. 

Denise Kay

Assistant Professor, Medical Education, University of Central Florida College of Medicine
TFS Alumni Orlando 2016 Cohort, Wicked Opportunities 2019 Summer Cohort

Denise Kay has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and a M.A. in Guidance & Counseling. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, she serves as the Executive Director of the Longitudinal Curricular Themes and the Co-Director of the Interprofessional Education Program. Her funded educational programs include a Geriatric Health & Wellness Program, a Lifestyle Medicine program and the qualitative study of professional identity development in medical school. Her primary research focuses on conceptual change, student engagement and curricular efficiency. Prior to her career in academia, Denise worked as Counselor and Marriage & Family Therapist.