University Education: Convergence Analytics and the Internet of Everything

Last week I spoke at the business school of a great university. From time to time I’m invited to colleges and universities to share my perspective on the state of education as it pertains to meaningful positions for graduates. I’ve worked on several educational initiatives over the years, including the creation of digital curriculum as a university EIR, board director of the Digital Analytics Association (DAA), and as a trustee of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.

I’ve come to see that there’s growing imbalance that exists between skills taught in classrooms and the skills sought in the marketplace. This imbalance is only accelerating by the rapid pace of change in technology and the big data that gets generated in its wake. Universities are falling behind.

Anthony P. Carnevale, director of The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, has recently called for a fundamental shift in thinking about the way students are educated. He writes, “The old model, where you go to college and then go out and find a job, is largely outmoded. It needs to be replaced with a new model, in which college years are spent explicitly preparing for an occupation.”

While we can’t quite predict with 100 percent accuracy what occupations are going to be most in demand, we can at least try to take educated guesses about the type of skills that will be required as students are paying off their college loans.

Several years ago, in an article written for Chief Content Officer Magazine, I questioned the state of higher education and wondered – Will Universities Evolve? I noted that in marketing, particularly digital media, content marketing and analytics — all growing at a blazing rate – U.S. universities were failing to graduate marketable graduates that are savvy about digital content and skilled using analytic methodologies. Often those skills cross several traditional fields of study: computer science, English, mathematics, philosophy, and communications.

The Challenge

I wonder whether university education is the next market to be disrupted in the U.S. economy. Students are questioning whether their high-priced education and gargantuan debt loads — up 47 percent after inflation from the prior 10 years — will position them for a college-worthy career. A four-year degree and MBA at my university costs more than $340, 000.

And, in the two years since my last writing on this topic, U.S. student debt has climbed even higher, to an all-time peak, only behind mortgages. Student loans are now the second largest debt class pegged at $1.2 trillion, and has increased by 84 percent since the 2008, based on a study by information services company Experian.

According to a recent Venture Beat post citing his comments, VC and PayPal founder Peter Thiel laments about higher education, “We are in a bubble, and it’s not an Internet bubble. The implicit promise is that you work hard to get there, and then you are set for life. It can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. It’s what you’ve been told all your life, and it’s how schools rationalize a quarter of a million dollars of debt.”

The rate of change is climbing ever more steeply. The data-driven Internet of Everything offers the unlimited promise of optimizing life. And it crosses traditional boundaries in both higher education, and corporate silos. Engineers need to communicate, and English majors need to measure to drive business.

Through wearable technology like Google Glass, we use Augmented Reality to create “Metrics for the Real World”.

Homes and appliances are equipped with sensors detecting our presence and behaviors. AI technology “predicts” where we will be, and what we will need – maybe before we need it.

At the office we’re able monitor and to extract actions and behaviors from our fellow employees using a host of technologies. There is a growing convergence of sales and marketing roles driven by AI and predictive analytic capacities fueled by mobile within the enterprise.

Data and convergence analytics are imbedded into each of our lives. And yet we graduate students without the skill sets to even begin to understand, or let alone build, the products that surround us…and surf the big data wakes they create.

Conclusion

Back to my campus visit where 200 business school students, alumni, and faculty filled the room. I asked a question – “how many of you use Google Analytics?” Every student’s hand went up. And I asked the same question to their professors – few raised their hands.

So that’s the irony. I know it’s quite challenging for university curriculum to keep up with the rapid pace of technology change, yet students are teaching themselves needed skills. The digital natives are restless and thirsty for knowledge and universities are not able to quench their thirst and are continuing to fall further behind amid the debate about return on investment (ROI).

We need to think differently and break down silos in university departments and within the enterprise. No longer can students study only business, engineering, or English as the market weaves between traditional disciplines requiring them all. Higher education is wallowing at a glacial pace, not keeping up with corporate demand for high-tech skills. Will the high-temperature market demand for digital “melt” the slow rate of change in higher education? I hope so.

Send this article to your favorite professor. I’m glad to share more ideas on how we can close the gap/the divide.

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