Macro-trends: initial scaling education design sprint

In education, we often hear the same issues cropping up again and again: lecture capture, learning analytics, internationalisation, and so on. These are all important, and we often approach them thematically, within their own bubbles.

In Paul Bailey’s recent post about macro trends, he says “we believe that significant and accelerated change can be expected over the next 10 – 15 years, in both technology and socio-cultural responses to technology”. These changes are easy to identify by hindsight, but not so when you are caught in the middle of dealing with everyday challenges.

By taking a step back we can see that one macro trend is the need to scale education. Beyond the capitalist mantra of ‘growth is good’, there are a host of reasons why UK education sector needs to scale. These are exacerbated by increased inflation and the real-term reduction in per student funding. FE has been dealing with funding cuts for a considerable time, but now HE is facing similar issues.

Supply and demand

The most obvious reason for scaling is the upcoming increase in demand caused by the demographic bulge of school leavers over the next few years potentially leading to a proportional increase in students. This is a change that most universities are aware of and are planning for, as this data is freely available from the DfE and ONS.

Beyond the UK, HolonIQ claim that globally there will be 2 billion more people in education (school, college, university and alternative post-secondary graduates) by 2050. The anticipated increase in secondary-educated students worldwide, will potentially increase the number of students who access the tertiary education sector, and provide new markets to explore.

Skills that pay the bills

The Government’s Skills for Jobs white paper and lifelong learning entitlement may encourage a return to tertiary education, in some form, for mature learners as they upskill or reskill. Changes in the workplace and in working patterns may necessitate a shift in the types of jobs people do, and therefore, require the development of new skills and knowledge. PWC forecasts that an increase in AI and automation will lead to around 30% job losses by 2030, which will increase demand, primarily in STEM subjects. The existing tertiary education sector is one potential avenue for this widescale skill development, however, it is also possible that private skills providers may take up much of this slack.

If the pandemic taught us one thing, it was that learning online is feasible and demand is there. Education institutions have been refining and redesigning their online and blended learning opportunities since the initial pandemic-driven rush. The recently released OfS’s Blended learning review, outlines good practice and considerations in this area. Blended and online learning are both modes that enable access to different markets and increased numbers, to support growth.

As we want to help educational institutions to scale, we analysed these drivers and enablers to identify patterns, cross-overs, and some easy wins for the sector. We did this by conducting a short design sprint to break the macro-topic into more manageable areas for further investigation.

Future focus

Our design sprint led us to the following seven problems:

  1. Scaling support services – in order to meet the needs of a 24/7 campus, both from increased internationalisation and increasing flexibility for home students, to receive seamless access to a range of student support services at any time.
  2. Shortest path to reskilling – how do we fast-track learning opportunities for reskilling learners who may already have been through university, or have significant experience of the soft skills from employment, to develop expert subject-specific knowledge quickly
  3. Supporting mature learners with external commitments – where mature learners (and many others) have planned their lives around university, but are unable to adapt and change to short-notice requests.
  4. Timetabling for mature/global students – flexibility of access, engagement and support to allow 24/7 learning to suit students’ needs.
  5. Mature learner study skills – for students returning to education, a way of increasing confidence and competence that they would be able to access the learning.
  6. Bridging the gap – supporting the development of social and collaborative interaction between ‘typical’ and ‘non-typical’ students, encouraging opportunities to learn from each other.
  7. Recognition of prior knowledge and experience – a more granular approach to Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) allowing for recognition of skills, knowledge and experience developed prior to the course.

We hope to explore these problems in greater depth in the upcoming months.

You may look at this list and think it is quite narrow in focus; well yes, we would agree. The process we took allowed us to focus down on specific areas, where we could then define a problem to be explored. It was done very organically, through multiple stages. As we focused on specific areas, we had to set aside lots of great avenues for exploration. We intend to revisit the work later to mine for other problems and opportunities for future work.

How do you see these issues affecting your work? Are you doing anything to resolve them? What other challenges do you face in scaling education? Please let us know in the comments or email

One reply on “Macro-trends: initial scaling education design sprint”

For 24/7 learning, we need a bold programme of research into uses of AI for university education, eg intelligent personal assistants, fine-tuned from ChatGPT with individual student/staff knowledge and needs

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