Popular video forecasts the end of traditional higher education

Sams says certificates and badges will soon replace degrees.

In Bill Sams’ future, only the children of the ultra-wealthy will attend on-campus college courses, the student loan industry will collapse, and Google will build an omniscient online educational system while Apple and Amazon team up to create a learning resource leviathan.

And all of that comes to pass by 2020.

Sams, an executive in residence at Ohio University, made the web video, “EPIC 2020,” grabbing educators’ and technologists’ attention with brave predictions of how the college campus will cease to be a learning hub, and online schools will become the new standard in a world where Stanford, MIT, and Harvard don’t much matter.

“EPIC 2020,” after detailing the great institutional and societal strife of traditional education’s Armageddon, culminates with details of the learning system of the future: Google’s Evolving Personal Information Construct (EPIC), which “will know everything that you know and understand everything that you need to know to optimize your life,” Sams said.

Degrees will be replaced by credentials and badges, according to “EPIC 2020,” following the model adopted by the Mozilla Open Badges program, the Khan Academy, and Udacity, a site started by a Stanford professor who taught a free, open online course in 2011 that drew more than 160,000 registrations worldwide.

Sams even names the date of Google’s EPIC unveiling: June 22, 2020. Mark your calendars.

“It’s not my sole objective to be right or wrong here, but to get people talking about things that need to be discussed,” Sams said in an interview with eCampus News. “All of us are trapped in the paradigm of how things have been, the system we’ve existed in all of our lives. … A lot of [educators] have a worldview that makes it impossible for them to even see solutions to problems that exist today.”

Sams’ video has provoked a range of reactions from educators and IT officials, from amused to intrigued. Some call the “EPIC 2020” prophesies outlandish, others say the predictions are realistic, if not hard to imagine.

“I think that the video is certainly forward-thinking,” said Raymond Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service. “Those who don’t see the possibilities, I think, are missing the current trends and the speed with which changes are taking place right now in higher education.”

Schroeder, an outspoken advocate for massive open online courses (MOOCs), said the shift toward an open, mostly free college model has already begun.

MIT partnered with Harvard in its edX program, which offers free classes using the popular flipped learning approach. Coursera, launched by former Stanford professors, has more than two dozen college-level courses available to anyone with an internet connection. Udacity has drawn hundreds of thousands of learners to its 11 courses.

The “EPIC 2020” video includes a not-too-distant partnership between Apple and Amazon to create a new entity known as Applezon. This platform will become the world’s largest content distribution site. Around the same time, Apple’s iTunes U expands and educators post free lectures that are used by the largest providers of free learning.

Before these free online offerings can usurp traditional degree-earning programs, student loans must cease to exist.

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