12 Trends Transforming the Post-Sec Landscape

Higher Ed & Post Sec, Learning, Online & Blended / by

The number of post-secondary students taking an online course has nearly quadrupled over the last decade to nearly 7 million students, with nearly one-third of all postsecondary students in the US taking at least one online course.  According to the 2012 Sloan C survey, more than 90% of public two- and four-year institutions offer distance learning opportunities to their students and 75% of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face.”

That sounds like rapid change, but 2012 was an inflection point indicating more rapid and disruptive change to come.  Following are 12 trends that signal plunging enrollments for some third tier institutions and growing enrollments for new options.

1.Rapid growth in for-profit post-secondary from 1992 to 2010 (until federal legislation slowed the trend).

2.Expanded online learning offerings from traditional institutions; 90% of public institutions offer some online offerings.

3.Massively open online courses (MOOC) from new providers including Coursera, Udacity, and edX exploded in 2012.  About 12% of Sloan C surveyed institutions have or are planning MOOC participation.

4.The rise of very low cost DIY gen ed alternatives including StraighterLine, Propero, UniversityNow and free CLEP prep courses.

5.Rapid growth of informal online learning markets like Skillsoft and Udemy and learn-to-code sites like Bloc and CodeAcademy.

6.Expanding open education resources (OER) including Saylor.org, CK12, NROC, and Khan Academy.

7.Rapid growth in blended learning—incorporating online learning, social learning, and flipped classroom strategies into existing offerings.

8.Innovations in adaptive learning—combining adaptive assessment and tailored instruction particularly in developmental math including (e.g., ASU and Knewton)

9.High rates of unemployment making more expensive degrees less valuable in many job categories.

10.Alternative market signaling strategies including badging, certification, portfolio, and references are augmenting or replacing degrees in some job categories.

11.Competition is coming from new directions with more online course options, credit opportunities, and the unbundling of post-secondary services.

12.Wired students armed with mobile devices used to anywhere anytime options.

I’m thinking about what this means for professional schools–particularly engineering and medicine–where there is clearly more opportunity for online learning, but strong opportunity for differentiation with hands-on and apprentice-based learning.

Innovation.  There are (at least) six dimensions of innovation and potential differentiation: delivery, pedagogy, organization, matriculation, and business model


  • low tech-traditional (most of US higher ed)
  • tech augmented (1:1,  content on LMS)
  • blended (mix of online and onsite delivery)
  • online: instructor at a distance
  • DIY


  • lecture (most of US higher ed)
  • interactive: problem and project based
  • applied, hand-on training
  • on the job, apprenticeships


  • discipline based (most of US higher ed)
  • integrated (ASU is a partial example)


  • course-based (most of US higher ed)
  • test out option (WGU)
  • competency-based

Business Model

  • pay for attendance (most of US higher ed)
  • pay for premium services (tutoring, content)
  • pay for certification (some MOOC options)
Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is founder and CEO of Getting Smart. He is also a partner in Learn Capital and a director of iNACOL, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners, Strive for College, and Bloomboard.


Dale Cope /

I like this concise list of 12 trends Tom. I hope in future blogs you will expand on the six dimensions of innovation and differentiation you named. Thanks – I will keep watching for it!

Laura Segala /

High school students combining online high school courses with on-campus dual credit college courses also seems to be on the rise.

@pkb0001AU /

The 12 trends are spot on! Our question is how do we prepare students and add value to an increasingly connected, high-tech, fast-tempo global economy? “Almost every student comes to class equipped with a small arsenal of portable, web-enabled devices, but the traditional classroom isn’t designed to take advantage of these tools.” http://vergepipemedia.com/blog/the-learning-shift-classroom-innovation/