"The Disconnected" — A Q&A with #RUOnlineCon Keynote Speaker Ken Ronkowitz

The re-emergence of autodidacts—people “who learn on their own”—is just one of several societal trends reshaping higher education, points out Ken Ronkowitz, senior designer at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and one of five keynote speakers at the upcoming Rutgers Online Learning Conference Mid-Atlantic region (RUOnlineCon) Jan. 11-12 2016 in New Brunswick, N.J.

Ronkowitz—who in addition to creating instructional design solutions teaches in the NJIT graduate program in professional technical communications and at Montclair State University as an adjunct English instructor—will invite participants to learn about societal trends in a talk dubbed “The Disconnected.”


Kenneth Ronkowitz, senior designer, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Trends like the sharing economy, the maker movement, the do-it-yourself movement, open source coding, “cord cutting” of traditional cable television, and a “rent rather than buy” mindset could affect higher education significantly in the future, opined Ronkowitz.

The “disconnected” comprise about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research, which estimates that number will double in the next 10 years, points out Ronkowitz.

Q: Who are “the disconnected”?

Ken Ronkowitz: Some of the disconnected are people who want to learn things, but do not necessarily want schools to provide that education in traditional ways.

They are a widening group that is not as age-bound as we might imagine. These are people who are connecting differently to the world, society and education.

My talk at RUOnlineCon will help identify this group by their behavior. It’ll also consider how higher education may deal with this disconnected or differently connected student.

Q: What’s one takeaway for higher educators?

Ronkowitz: If you accept the fact that there is such a group, as an educator you have to ask: ‘Would [‘the disconnected’] still want to come to a school to receive a traditional degree? Or will they want another path and another product?

But it's not like you can say: ‘Here's the evidence that students are not going to come to the university.’ And I'm not convinced that they won’t.

For purposes of discussion, though, if these students, or potential students, are not going to be interested in going for the typical degrees that we offer, do we just lose them to other things—or do we try to pursue them in other ways?

Q: Are universities preparing for this?

Ronkowitz: I can already see indications that universities are doing things, including alternative, competency-based, and three-year degrees, and even more certificate programs.

Back in 2012, I taught a fairly early MOOC (massive open online course). The big outcry then was: “That's it. That's the end. Who's going to go to a university if they can get all these courses online for free?”

I was never convinced that was going to happen. I didn't think [MOOCs] were going to destroy the university. There's always going to be someone who wants to go to Rutgers or Princeton for four years and live on campus, and have that experience. But I think there are going to be fewer of those people if there are other alternatives.

I think that traditional colleges are going to have to offer the alternatives. They're going to have to offer the traditional and they're going to have to offer nontraditional alternatives. And I'm not sure that's something they want to do. From the business point of view, that's going to hurt the core business.

But it's really hard for [universities] to come up with [the alternatives]. Online education has often been seen as that alternative, and that may continue to be a part of the solution. They may have to do new things with their online programs.

Hear more from Ken Ronkowitz, four other keynote speakers, and 35 presentation and round table speakers at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference Mid-Atlantic Region. Click here to view registration and conference information.

About Rutgers Online Learning Conference Mid-Atlantic Region: RUOnlineCon is designed and open to any higher education faculty and staff interested in gaining perspectives and honing skills with best practices and innovative technologies in education. The event, held Jan. 11-12, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency is New Brunswick, N.J., provides educational opportunities, peer networking with peers, access to leading providers of products and services, and talks and presentations about industry trends and how they’re implemented.

RUOnlineCon is presented by the Rutgers University Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and New Jersey Research & Education Network (NJEDge).

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Event Date

RUOnline 2017
13 March 2017
200 Atrium Drive

Somerset, NJ 08873

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