8 Questions that RNL’s Scott Jeffe Asked Us About Higher Ed After COVID

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One of the best outcomes of writing books is when folks ask us to come and talk about what we’ve written. Since publishing Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education and The Low-Density University: 15 Scenarios for Higher Education, we’ve fortunate enough to have been asked to participate in lots of discussions.

By far, our preferred format for these events is a conversation. Often billed as a fireside chat (although we’ve yet to have a real or virtual fire), these conversations almost always feature someone from the school, organization, or company facilitating the discussion. We work to build in plenty of time for engagement with the folks participating in the event, either in-person (back when that was still a thing) or more recently virtually.

The last conversation that we participated in was an opening keynote conversation at the RNL 2021 Graduate and Online Innovation Summit. The host and facilitator of the event was our friend and colleague Scott Jeffe, VP of Research at RNL. Scott has spent more than 20 years doing research on adult, graduate, and online audiences and is part of RNL’s recent moves to expand its services to these student populations.

The questions that Scott asked are so good that we wanted to share them with you.

Scott’s questions:

Q1: Let’s begin with the big picture: what is the “low-density university” and what is driving the need for it?

Q2: What are your predictions on how long we may need to be “low-density”?

Q3:  How well do you think institutions did this fall? Any stand-out success stories that you’ve come across?

Q4:  You say in the book that many institutions went with some form of the hyflex scenario. The research I did over 20 years with Carol Aslanian almost invariably pointed to a version of Hyflex (with an asynchronous option) as the preferred option among working adult populations and then later among post-traditional populations. Boston University’s Master’s programs came as close as I have ever seen this past fall when master’s programs were accessible in the classroom, synchronous remote, or fully online. Have you seen other interesting examples? 

Q5.  You wrote that “the challenges of equity, access, and racial justice run parallel with many other pressures facing higher education. Questions about value, cost, higher education’s willingness to change – to evolve – to adapt, have been made more pressing by the pandemic…but they are not new.” 

This loosely aligns with Kevin Carey’s piece just before the pandemic in which he was concerned that online learning innovation was not being used to lower the cost of college or making online more accessible in other ways, but rather plugging other holes in the institutional budget — or lining the pockets of an OPM.

What do you think the best outcome would be that would weave together all that we’ve learned during the last year of pandemic and racial strife and to what extent are positive moves forward contingent on institutions’ willingness to change?

Q6.  On the issue of change. I recently read an article in the Chronicle focused on institutions that used some version of your “modular learning” scenario. I was pleased to read that stakeholders – on balance – found the change to work. Faculty said it forced them to how they do what they do, what is essential and what is not, what could be done independently and what needs to be done in class (either F2F or synchronous). All in all really exciting. At the end, when asked if they will continue this after the pandemic, the answer was for the most part, NO. Why? Because it was exhausting. What are your thoughts on that?

Q7. I want to shift gears a bit and bring up to date the focus of your previous book Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education. That book focused on how institutions can build online programs in a manner that builds institutional capacity and expertise. When you bring together that focus with the last year, what are the things that have been of greatest concern? J

Q8. I was intrigued how you wrote about the need to regulate – or at least rate OPMs so people know more about what they are getting into. Tell me more about what you had in mind…



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