I had the pleasure and honour to give a brief speech to a crowd of international IT- and Business Leaders, during the CIO diner initiated by CIONET and Mavim last month. Below you can find a transcript of what I shared that evening.
The student factory
At NOVI, we believe that the role of a university is to adapt to societal needs.
It goes without saying that when it comes to education, the demands of the contemporary society are completely different from those in the mid-nineteenth century.
During the industrial revolution factories rose from the ground and the owners increasingly demanded large numbers of knowledgeable workers. However, they didn´t have an educational system to cope with that kind of demand. Thus, they’ve constructed an educational system fitted for factory work. In many respects the current educational system is still very much rooted in the system that was created during the industrial revolution.
Walk into any classroom and you’ll still find many elements of this approach. Students lined up in classrooms, age-segmented, all following the same program at the same pace to eventually end up as pre-defined output. It’s safe to say that universities are a lot like (student-)factories.
This may have worked back then. Correction, It has worked back then! It works fine for educating factory workers.
However, things have changed a lot.
Our society needs a different kind of worker now.
We need creatives, independent thinkers, problem solvers, men and women who can adapt to and cope with the dynamics of constantly changing surroundings.
So how come we still educate our students based on principles founded during the industrial age?
I think the essence of the problem with formal education today, lies in the fact that it is primarily focussed on output and process efficiency. Just how a factory functions.
But that approach lacks a human element. It lacks a focus on customer value.
Changing our value model
As a private university, I believe customer value ought to be our sole focus. It has to be, otherwise I will run out of business in no-time. Although we previously thought we had the student centred in our business model, classes became smaller and our revenue shrunk. We’ve also noticed the same trends with our competitors. At first we blamed the recession, but quickly understood that we were starting to lose relevance in some way.
We had to rethink what gives relevant value to our students. We started asking our students for new feedback. Why did they come to NOVI? What importance do they attach to learning in their daily lives? How they do they gather new knowledge? Etc…
That was quite a humbling experience. Learning new things is essential for every IT-professional, but that’s not why they turned to NOVI for their education.
Sure, they came to NOVI to broaden their horizon, to learn new theories that would be helpful in their daily practice, but the majority of new knowledge they gather online through e-learnings, watching youtube tutorials and by talking to experts or management. But most of all they learned by just doing.
Students in this day and age are very self-reliant in the way they learn.
Keeping this in mind, why then do students pay thousands of euros to study with NOVI?
Well, our students wanted recognition for their acquired knowledge and competences, and they wanted a diploma to show their employer what they are worth. They came to us, because at NOVI you can do this in the best and most efficient way.
This was quite an eye-opener. It turned out that are not only in the education business but most of all in the business of validation. We are helping our students to get to a validated level of competence that would help them to fulfil their ambitions. We also provide the student with high quality documentation to show their environment what they are worth on an accredited scale.
Back to the drawing board
The moment we came to terms with this, we realized that, being a 60-year old educator, we had to go back to the drawing board and reinvent ourselves.
Our value is to validate competences and facilitate an effective learning experience.
So, we started focusing on that.
First step was to disconnect our method of education from any traditional learning route or -style.
We’ve been busy digitizing our complete program and created our own online platform. This platform offers various courses that lead to a bachelor degree.
The student as the director of his own learning path
Through this platform; EdHub (short for Education Hub) students are able to direct their own learning path. Not only the content, but also the way they learn. Students can attend a class, learn online through our e-learning, complete related projects on the job, or demonstrate that they already posses the required qualifications.
The students individually decide how and when they want to learn. We simply facilitate the best way to do so and validate the plurality on results and translate those to European Credit Points, which are used to earn a bachelors degree.
By collecting the necessary data and converting it to the above mentioned standard, we can learn about the students progress towards their bachelor degree.
Furthermore, by dividing the study into smaller elements and reward students with nano degrees, students are able to share their progress and their acquired competences with their relations at any time.
In order to facilitate effective learning and to be able to match the data to accredited standards such as a bachelor IT, we at NOVI, are interested in students information beyond their learning activities. Such as their past work experience, certified vendor programs or new and future projects.
Life Long Learning
We have come to understand that earning a bachelor degree is rarely one’s primary goal. The career prospects play a significant role throughout their education.
To make sense of all the collected data and present students standardised profiles of their skills, we have to rely on recognized and familiar frameworks. For this purpose we have chosen the e-CF (European Competence Framework) as a basis for measuring student skills.
The learning process is essentially about bridging the gap between the current and the desired situation.
Because we can measure skills and capabilities with a standardized framework that can also be used to define job profiles, we can accurately plot the gaps between students capabilities and their ambitions.
We can effectively tell somebody how much of a security professional he is, just by comparing his e-CF based profile to that of a security professional.
Learning data based services
By combining our competence data with for example the internal data of a company´s open vacancies, we can generate smart suggestion that help to make the right and effective choices in their career. That is very much the impact we, as an modern educator, want to have. It helps us to be of high relevance in the career development of our students.
Similarly, we can provide companies with intelligent suggestions by combining our competence data with their internal data. We could for example compare our data with the data for open vacancies of a certain company and help students make the right and effective choices in their career.
Various educational routes, -methods and courseware can also be suggested to students by applying predictive analyses of the competence data and learning data regarding learning pace, chosen methods, the development of formative and summative test results, evaluations and practice assessments.
We use student data to inform coaches and trainers. Based on their individual results we put together individualized and relevant courses, but also deploy meaningful connections between students and coaches.
We understand that the better part of ones development is not initiated by us but in the workplace. So we use our data to feed management and staff to steer and effectively participate in the development of their employees.
Contribute to creating adaptive and learning organizations
Now most of what I’ve described above is based on individual analysis. Of course we can also do the same analysis on a collective scale, for example with an organization in transition.
We assess and compare the current population with profiles the organization requests and give a clear insight on aspects such as the developability of the population, the feasibility of the transition project, but also a real time status update on the competence development during this transition.
We’ve already seen some very promising results with projects where we’ve applied this type of analysis.
Working with learning data makes our education less linear and more personal
It should be clear by now that data will have a significant role in the development of education as a sector. But it will also have a central role in the development of NOVI and the development of our services in relation to our students.
The use of learning data helps us to make our education less linear and more personal.
It will help us work smarter, faster and to make much more of an impact on the lives of those we work with.
Acquiring and using data in order to support a smart and effective learning curve helps us to fulfil our mission, “accelerate professional development”.
Today, I understand that our business has changed. Our business is not to be most efficient, or fill the most seats in the classroom. Our business is to build bridges between a current state and an ambition. Especially, doing this in a way that creates value for our clients.
A new beginning
2, perhaps 3 years ago, the future of NOVI wasn’t looking particularly bright. It took some courage to let go of 60 years of experience in education. It hasn’t always been easy. But things are looking up for us now. The current board of NOVI gave, me and my team, its full commitment in reinventing NOVI on our terms. They participate and support us in each step of the way. Which is vital for positive change.
And with this disruption in our business model, I believe we are capable of adapting to and building a sustainable business for years to come. Our ambition is to become a leading company in Edtech software and human development.
And we want to do this together with you!
George Vlug – Manager Business Development & Innovation at NOVI University of Applied Sciences.
George Vlug is Manager Business Development & Innovatie bij Hogeschool NOVI. Vanuit die rol is George verantwoordelijk voor alle business development, sales, marketing en innovatie-activiteiten van de instelling. Hogeschool NOVI leidt professionals in de Business en IT op en verzorgt opleidingen op het gebied van Bedrijfskunde, IT en Informatievoorziening. Hogeschool NOVI is door de Keuzegids uitgeroepen tot beste deeltijdopleider van Nederland. Organisaties als het Ministerie van Defensie, ABN AMRO en Eneco behoren tot NOVI’s klantenkring. George Vlug is bereikbaar via firstname.lastname@example.org