A conversation on innovation in higher education and the future of learning

December 25, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


– Well thank you President Aoun
for agreeing to participate and for being my personal
inspiration around innovation, as well as, I know,
many people in the room. Very true. And as a leader that I know
looks around the corner regularly, and when I think I finally have where the line of sight
is going, sees beyond it. Could you just talk generally on the way you think higher ed
and learning is changing, particularly over the next decade. – First, I want to thank
Philly for inviting me here. She told me it was going to be a talk but she didn’t tell me
it’s going to be TED talk so I’m going to remove my tie. (audience laughs) It doesn’t fit. The second thing I want to
mention before I start is that this day today was absolutely phenomenal because it showcased what old innovations and the novelty thinking that is happening throughout the university. And I’m talking about
throughout the university because it’s anchored by
the professional advancement but I saw many endeavors being
presented from other places, so it’s really focusing on
the fact that ultimately, whenever innovation starts in one place, it spreads to the other, and there are no limits to that. When we look at higher education, no one can predict the future. So that’s why I can freely talk about it because who can contradict me? But when I look at higher education now, I look at a system that has
focused a lot on two dimensions. One is the undergraduate
dimension, the 18 to 22. And the other is the PhD and research. That’s overwhelming paradigm. And I think this paradigm today is incomplete, insufficient,
and not very relevant, because we are always going to focus on the undergraduate education. We are always going to
focus on Phd/research, but it’s not enough. We are in the middle
of an enormous change, enormous revolution. You all know about it. Our academic planners,
strategic planners out there. We’re talking about robots eating jobs. Intelligence systems eating jobs. And therefore, no one is set for life. If no one is set for life, why, because we can become obsolete, and we are becoming obsolete, we need endeavors that will help us retool, refocus, and restart. And education has essentially said, I’m not interested in lifelong learning. And that’s our opportunity. So by looking at lifelong learning, we’re looking at it as a
club and we’re looking at providing opportunities from K to grave. If you look at me and you
say, K to grave, that’s new. When you heard about entrepreneurship that’s going to start in the high schools, for the high schools, you
saw and you’re practicing opportunities constantly
for people who have long on experience, short on time. Lauri, let me mention something. Every time somebody in the corporate world says that we are launching a university, I look at it as our failure
in higher education. We failed to meet your needs and that’s why you have to do it. When I wanted to design a
new tie I went to PVH. Actually you know why,
because Henry Nasella is the lead director of PVH. He said, your ties don’t look good. So I said, can you do
better? I challenged him. And he said yes. So we had a great deal with PVH. From an aesthetic point of view and also from a design and
from a cost point of view. So we didn’t design our own ties. That’s not our core competence. So look at our failure
in higher education. That’s our opportunity. Every time you see a gap
there is an opportunity. So if you look at what’s going to change, you are at the vanguard of it. Lifelong learning is going to cover the whole higher education. And I keep saying that
higher education can become like the railway industry,
and that’s a risk. When the railway industry started, they looked at evolution and they said, this is not us. Our business, our model, is
the railway transportation. They didn’t define themselves as being a transportation company. They missed it. And we, in higher education, are missing the lifelong learning,
and frankly that’s why you saw also the four prophets starting. So that’s our opportunity. That’s what you are doing. That’s why I believe
that you are the core. – Thank you. Just a follow up on that. If we think about a lifelong
partnership with our learners, that we’re there for
them when they need it, are there characteristics
of that kind of enterprise that you think sort of fall
into that one you mentioned, it’s like a club. Are there other things that
we should be thinking about to create that kind of role? – We look at the, as I mentioned, the thought of lifelong learning, at learners, at people, who are short on time, long on experience. Therefore we cannot afford to think about our partnerings in our terms. They have to be done on their terms. They have to be short. They have to be impactful. They have to be stackable. So the boot camps, the certificates, the stackable certificates are essential. Similarly, I cannot build
something and tell a learner, come to me. I have to go to her. That’s why we have created
all these campuses. We are going to create
more in Europe, in Asia. And our opportunity would
be to provide learning wherever the learner is. But also, we are going
to provide opportunities for people who are mobile. For people who may start in one campus but then their jobs will
move them to another area where we have another campus,
Toronto, London, Asia. They need to be able to be mobile. See, look at what you have done today with the presentations. The presentations, you came
back to headquarters, correct? Several of you came back to headquarters. Well imagine this situation
where we have even more. We don’t want the notion
of headquarters anymore. We can connect virtually. This endeavor, that for you
and for your HR orientation, you had to come here. Imagine a situation where
we’re in 30 countries. It doesn’t make sense to
come back to headquarters. So I hope that the notion of
headquarters will disappear. And that Boston is a
note among other notes. And so it provides the
learner with opportunities that other places don’t have. And that’s why we’re building the first grower university system. Our undergrads are going
to benefit from that in terms of co-ops. We are going to benefit from that in terms of the partnerships. And we have to start thinking, we had discussions five years
ago about going multilingual. It’s time to start
thinking about it again. So you see, the world is eminent. Once we reach Mars, then
we can have the universe, we can have a satellite there. And I need good space suit for that. – We’re gonna open it up rather than the questions all coming from me. I have more but I’ll
use the president’s line because I love it. Keep the questions short so
the answer can be longer, okay? So who has the first question? Yes. – [Female Audience Member] When
you’re in a leadership role, the old metrics of
success don’t apply to you because you’re forging new ground. What are some of the metrics of success that you think we’ll be using internally to verify that we’re making progress? – You know we have been,
actually it’s a great point because in some ways, when
you look at our endeavor as a whole system, we
have traditional endeavors with traditional metrics. Research funding, for
instance, is one, et cetera. But even there, we are
looking at different approach. For instance, you’ve all
known that we are all working on the notion of expanding
experiential PhD’s to experiential education
that includes PhD’s. By doing that, while departing
from the traditional norms in higher education, where
essentially if I educate a PhD person, then I want
her to go to academia. Whereas here we’re saying,
you can go to academia or you can go to the
industrial world, do research, the corporate world, head HR like Lauri. She has a PhD. The metrics, we have to be very clear on what we are measuring. We are going to be measured
by traditional matrices and we are going to set
our own metrics here. So for instance, higher education has been focusing on input metrics. We are a part of that, we look at it, we play the game, we are assessed by that. But the opportunities
that you are all seeing and that you are building,
not only through competence but through others, is to
look at output measures. We are a service endeavor. We serve our learners. Are they happy? Are they satisfied? Are they coming back? Because if we want them for
life, that’s in metrics. Second, third aspect, if
you ask every university, who are your clients? They hate the terms clients, but after two seconds they
tell you, it’s the students. For us, we serve the corporate world and the learners. And we want this triangle
to come together. That’s the meaning of
experiential education. So that means that when
you look at satisfaction, we’re not looking at the satisfaction of the individual learners only, but the satisfaction of people
who are going to employ them. The day they don’t take
our co-op students, that’s our failure. The day they don’t recruit our students, and you know we have the best
recruitment in the country, that’s our failure. The day they start a
university, that’s our failure. We have to do it together, and we have to define it constantly, because the demand and
the needs are changing. And we shouldn’t be afraid of that. That’s more important. When I came here 10 years ago, we were being accredited
and people were afraid. People who are working
on our accreditation. May was leading it but
May was not fretting because she does not fret about anything. (audience laughs)
She’s like a sphinx. And I said, listen,
accreditation will look at the lowest common
denominator, nothing more. We are way beyond it as an institution. We have to define our own accreditation. And in fact, indeed that’s what we did. When we went to other
places, to other cities, to other states, we have to push. So that’s my answer. We define them, we refine them, we test
them, we measure them, and we’re ready to change if we fail. – Other questions? – In your opinion, what is the difference between
training and education? – What’s the difference– – Training versus education. – You see, in some ways
it’s a false dichotomy. Higher education created
a dichotomy between learning to live and
learning to earn a living. I don’t even know what
the distinction means. People will say, it’s only liberal arts. Some others will say it’s only the skills. So first of all, skills by
themselves are not enough. An engineer doesn’t become
a leader in the company or in the organization or the corporation because he’s a good engineer, or because she’s a good engineer. They become leaders because
of the human factor. First of all, I think
it’s a false dichotomy. Second, if we believe that
in the next 10 to 15 years, 45% of the jobs we know
are going to disappear. And I’m not talking about the muscle jobs. I’m talking about jobs,
people like accountants. Many of the legal aspects will disappear. We have a list, Mackenzie
had a study on that. Ralph Martin is happy because he said my job is going to disappear,
what I’m going to do. We have lists that Mackenzie, all the government studies, et cetera. So what does it mean? It means that it’s a wake
up call for education because we have to provide
a robot-proof education because robots are eating our jobs. Intelligence systems are eating our jobs. So how do we provide robot-proof education for people who are short on experience, long on time in undergrad. If we give them only skills,
it’s going to be obsolete. Some will disappear. If we give them only liberal
arts values that I believe in, that’s not enough. We have to bring the two together. I call it, the new literacy. Every student coming out of Northeastern, she should know about coding, that’s becoming like typewriting. She should know about data literacy, about the tech world, data literacy. She should know more and
more about what makes us unique with respect to the machines. The human attributes,
being entrepreneurial, being creative, being innovative,
being culturally agile, being diverse, being ethical. Have you met many ethical computers? So we need both. And after they leave,
they’re not set for life. The mistake that you are
conveying in higher education is that you’re set for life if you have a BS or an MS or a PhD. No one is set for life because
those are disappearing. That’s the beauty of what you are doing. So look at it even from the point of view of people staying with you for life. Sometimes people ask me, are
you worried about the fact that the number of applicants will shrink because the demography of 18 to 22. For us it has increased. We received this year 54,000
applications, an all-time high. But even if it decreased,
we have the whole world. We have the whole world waiting for us because we are providing
lifelong learning. Going back to the point, Christophe, I think there is no
distinction between the two because I don’t understand
what they represent. I think it’s really important to go beyond these artificial dichotomies and focus on the new challenges, and that’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re doing. The challenge is, okay,
jobs will disappear, competence will become obsolete, how are we responding to that. – One more question from the crowd. Don’t feel pressure. Yes, Joe. – [Joe] I was wondering, in your mind, how must faculty evolve so that
we as faculty are meeting… – It’s a great question. Did you all hear the question? – [Audience] No. – How should faculty evolve? That’s the question,
to meet the new needs. Look, in the same way
that jobs will disappear, we can become obsolete, by definition. So it’s not faculty only, it’s
faculty, staff, all of us. For instance, we are facing a new reality, but also we are facing a new customers, if you want, our students. What worked five years
ago doesn’t work today. You know it more. They come knowing exactly what they want. They look at the material on the web. They are rooted in the
new world with co-op. They challenge you when they come back because they know more about
certain things than you do. We all have to change. I am against mandating any change. It’s crazy because then
it becomes artificial. What we have done is to say, look, who are the innovators? Who is coming up with new ideas? Who is looking at the world differently? Let’s find a way of empowering them and let them become the proof, the model. The mistake that we
make in higher education is that every time we want a change, we want to vote on it,
we want a consensus. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. Whereas here what we
have done over the years is to say, let the pioneers lead us, let them succeed, and
it’s okay if they fail. And once they succeed, they are bringing the others with them. Let me give you a concrete
example that some of you lived. Governor Bobby is here. She wasn’t part of the institution then. The first adopters in online education were CPS, by definition, and then they worked
with computer science, the college of computer science. And some faculty came, loved it, and they went back and they
said to their colleagues, it changed the way I even think about my traditional courses. Seamus is shaking his head yes. If it were no, he would
not do it. He’s too polite. Let me contrast that
with another institution. In New York, the faculty
voted not to allow any faculty to experiment with online education. They voted on that. But it’s anti-academic freedom. It’s crazy. And that’s the beauty of
being in our environment. If we believe in experiential learning, we need to constantly
experiment, refine, learn. You mentioned that being
a voting organization, we’re a learning organization. That’s fine. We don’t mandate any changes. It’s artificial. Let the ecosystem create the
opportunities for change, lead the way in telling us
this is what’s needed today, and move on. That’s what’s happening. Susan Ambrose and Cigdem
and Tammy and their teams came and made presentation on how they track the students for life. How is each student in
charge of her destiny and how they shape it,
and they built this. This is exciting. Was it a mandated change? No. That’s the beauty of our day today. That’s what you have done. You are here innovating not
because there is a mandate, but because there is a
whim, there is a desire, and that’s true creativity. Thank you. – One last question and
it’s on a personal level. We have in the audience
today, myself included, we have people that are new to innovation. They’ve been operational leaders. We have some that are
seasoned at innovation and they’re applying it in new ways. You’re an innovator, you truly are. What do you do, personally, to
keep pushing your own ideas, your thinking, to look at
the environment differently? – First of all I disagree
with what Philly said. – That’s not unusual.
(audience laughs) – Because in a way, whether
we realize it or not, we’re all innovating
in one way or another. And I can give you examples. You won’t call them innovation,
but they are innovation. They are innovations. So that’s one thing. The second thing is
that every move we make, individually and collectively,
or semi-collectively, is a strategy. We made the decision to do certain things and not to do others. For instance, we all made
the decision not to have undergraduate teaching except in Boston. Why? Because we believe in a
residential model, et cetera. Why I am mentioning that is that behind every innovation,
there is a strategy. If you decide to move
into online experiential, that’s a strategy. If you decide not to move
into online experiential, that’s a strategy. So behind every innovation
there is a strategy so bring the strategy to the front. Second, be paramount. Don’t drink your Kool-Aid,
don’t drink our Kool-Aid, make enormous success in this institution. Feel happy but not satisfied. You keep hearing me mention that. Understand the strategy
behind every move you make. Be happy with what you’re
doing, not satisfied. And third, don’t look at higher education for a source of innovation only. Higher education is very conservative. We want to change the world but we don’t want to change ourselves. And that’s the beauty
of being at Northeastern. So look at the innovations
happening elsewhere. In companies. In international organizations. I visited India, they had a million NGO’s. Each NGO is innovating
in one way or another, either in terms of feeding people or in terms of making them entrepreneurs. Learn from that, we learn from that. I learned in India, for
instance, even in education, that our system, that is the
best system in the world, is not transferable
and it’s not adaptable. And somebody told me that,
walked me through that. Said, your system is too
US-centric, it cannot be exported. It’s too inflexible and too expensive. So I saw endeavors where
they’re providing education for pennies, and I’m
talking about pennies. This is a phenomenon
of reverse innovation. You know about that. That’s the world. It’s going to push you to learn. What we have done in higher education is to export our knowledge. So we went to Abu Dhabi,
we went to Calcutta, we went to China, with the same
models and it’s not working. And that’s what we are
doing, the opportunities. In order to innovate
you have to be humble, you have to listen. So a little bit of paranoia is good. And bring forward your strategy. Understand that every move
you make or you don’t make is a strategy. So what is your strategy? And that’s the beauty of
what has been done here. What you are doing. When we started thinking
about what is now called the profession advancement metric, if you tell me, did we know anything about what it will morph? And that’s the beauty,
because now you’re in charge. You own it. You’re ahead of the
concept, of the strategy, and of the innovation,
because you’re shaping it. You’re way beyond what
we dreamed of before. It’s wonderful. Thank you. (audience applause)