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Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Master's Degrees Change as the World Changes

A recent set of articles in New York Times Sunday edition (Jan 3, 2010) highlighted how master's degrees are bellwethers of new directions. Because master's degrees generally do not require a large number of hours, many colleges and universities have used the flexibility of interdisciplinary master's degrees to tailor student studies to individual goals, interests, and career opportunities. The obvious critique is such degrees can be trendy, and perhaps, arguably rather useless if there are massive paradigm shifts. But, the same can be said for traditional master's degrees. One can safely say that the bloom is off the rose of the stolid, traditional MBA, and to be at all competitive one must be sure to enter an MBA program that at least has a modicum of "sustainability studies" emphasis.

The article provided food for thought, and prompted a contemplation of some of the emerging trends and degrees. In doing so, one can gain an appreciation of the skills that are valued, and emerging industries that will potentially hire "niche" workers.

Homeland Security: After 9/11, many colleges and universities scrambled to assemble master's degree programs in Homeland Security as a continuation of Criminal Justice programs. Frankly, it appeared that there might be an oversupply just a year or so ago, as Iraq changed direction and budget issues resulted in layoffs at police departments, government agencies, and private security providers. Now, thanks to publicized security concerns, there is a renewed interest in the programs. There are a few new twists: language studies, cross-cultural studies, and emergency management have been added into most curricula.

CyberSecurity: This is a very specialized field that requires individuals to evaluate and remedy vulnerabilities within systems. Students become operational in computer networks, programming, and systems. This is an important program, but one can't help but suspect that some programs could be overly general, and deal with issues on a systems level, and never provide the hard-core math, computer science, and skills-training to make the graduate truly valuable. The extreme value to a company, the government, or military is the individual's ability to do things "hands-on" as well as to understand certain things about human behavior, marketing developments, and social networking in order to respond to emerging technologies.

Educational Leadership: This has been an extremely popular program for teachers who must have master's degrees for permanent certification, or who wish to move forward in their careers and become administrators of private schools, charter schools, or even community college programs. The best programs emphasize organizational development, and require students to have a project-based approach where they develop plans for schools or educational institutions. It's also important to include public policy training, educational technology for transformation, curriculum development, and teacher training programs. Informational technology may also be a focal point. Avoid programs that do not incorporate case studies and which do not require students to build a plan to rebuild a school.

Individualized MBAs: The MBA that can be somewhat customized to the individual's interests and goals is more important than ever. For example, an MBA program may allow an individual to focus on health care administration and to even take courses in specific areas, such as urgent care entrepreneurship. It can also be more theoretical in nature, and look at the interplay of sustainability and public policy as they relate to enterprises.

Sustainable Communities: There are any number of variations on the sustainability theme, all of which hold enormous promise in a world that must look at sustainability as a reality in a world that sees itself as increasingly interconnected, and where energy and environmental concerns are squarely at the center. An international scope is often a key characteristic. A good program will go to lengths to let the students develop a deep understanding of the concept of sustainability, and will provide significant grounding in "green" practices in various industries, including construction, transportation, healthcare, and manufacturing. In addition, programs look at individuals, communities, and the world -- each from a different set of criteria that discuss how to develop an enterprise, a community, and a household with an eye to long-term viability. Avoiding boom-bust mindsets is a part of the emphasis. Encouraging creativity and new solutions is equally important.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

New Directions and a New Decade for E-Learning: 12 Predictions

The new decade will be a time of great change in e-learning, and we're already getting a glimpse of it. Many of the changes are driven by new technologies, but even more are emerging in the aftermath of economic crisis, and the changes in the way people work, interact, and obtain information.

E-learning will be affected in many areas,

1. Continuing growth in online courses.
Colleges and universities will continue to expand offerings of online courses. This may surprise some, but a study by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities-Sloan National Commission on Online Learning reports that more than one-third of public university faculty have taught an online course. The full report is available at

2. Focus on cross-disciplinary programs.
Programs that span disciplines to go into new high-growth areas such as primary-care health care, home health care, sustainable business, green technology, green building, and "smart" energy technology will continue to attract students.

3. Career-related courses will grow.
Career colleges that offer "green" trades, health care certificates and degrees, and training in emerging technologies and sustainable business will boom, particularly if they incorporate an apprenticeship or internship that leads to employment.

4. Budget challenges mean trimming add-ons in online courses.
Despite the growth in online courses and course offerings, there has been a decline in overall university budgets. Cost-cutting means furloughs for staff and administration, and trimming overhead costs. Many of the applications and "add-ons" that colleges used to purchase will be replaced by opensource solutions, integrated Web 2.0 applications, and simple (yet effective) substitutes.

5. Stimulus spending in technology impact to be felt.
The move to expand access to high-speed Internet and to improve information / energy infrastructure is already resulting in an uptick in usage of higher technology solutions. The "trickle-down" of smartboards and wireless connections will result in a higher percentage of web-enhanced courses as well as a conversion to digital resources, libraries, and learning object repositories.

6. More use of opensource software such as Moodle (http://www.moodle.orgg), DotNetNuke (, and Joomla (
Moodle is already proving itself to be a hardy, flexible survivor in the LMS wars. DotNetNuke is an excellent social networking solution for organizations that can't afford the randomness of relying on LinkedIn or Facebook, but are not up to the high cost of Sharepoint. Joomla's content management flexibility allows people to wean themselves slowly from legacy systems, and to avoid high-cost custom solutions (Oracle, etc.). What's nice about Joomla is that it can power portals and websites as well. Python ( will continue to be a useful programming language for integrative solutions.

7. Mobile learning integrated into online courses for anytime, any place data access
Ubiquitous learning is gaining speed as the watchword of the new decade. Any place, any time, and -- this is most important -- any device -- will be key. Obtain information, interact, and share from multiple sources of information. Increased access is a given. What is less certain is how open the information will be.

8. Social networking starts to be used in e-learning to focus and filter information.
Controlled social networking that can be accessed via mobile device will continue to be very useful in the quest for ubiquitous learning solutions.

9. Twitter: enhanced student support in online courses and programs.
Finding how to harness Twitter to help develop learning communities is one of the most exciting challenges of the upcoming year.

10. High growth elearning programs in high-growth careers.
Health: Home health care, health care reform, primary care expansion, structural changes in medical care delivery and coverage
Business: Sustainable business, "green" business, new finance and private equity changes
Technology: "smart" technology that assists in the quest for energy efficiency, automation, robotics, control / monitoring
Energy/SmartGrid: control and monitor energy generation, use, distribution, infrastructure maintenance,

11. Expansion of online Advanced Placement (AP) programs, seamless integration of high school and college.

12. Webinar restructurings: Rise in synchronous (which are archived and available as asynchronous) modules used for training and in online courses.

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