4. The rise of new forms of interdisciplinary studies: Multidisciplinary approaches to higher education are being introduced by institutions that see valuable alternatives to a traditional, singular degree path. Faculty members, administrators, and instructional designers are creating innovative pathways to college completion through interdisciplinary experiences, nanodegrees, and other alternative credentials, such as digital badges.
5. Cross-institution collaboration: As campuses have evolved into hotbeds for entrepreneurship and discovery, higher education has become widely regarded as a vehicle for driving innovation. The focus of this trend has shifted from understanding the value of exploring new ideas to finding ways to replicate that exploration across unique and diverse learning institutions. Ongoing research examines how institutions can nurture cultures that promote experimentation. A significant element in advancing this movement is the call for higher education to accept failure as an essential part of the learning process.
6. Advancing cultures of innovation: Today’s global environment, which is increasingly connected via technology, allows institutions to unite across international borders and work toward common goals concerning teaching and learning, research, and shared values. By forging partnerships, institutions facing financial constraints can pool their resources so that faculty and learners can access a larger variety of digital course materials, data, and technologies than might otherwise be unavailable locally.
The 71 experts who came together to produce the report also identified challenges, grouped into three distinct categories.
Solvable challenges, which we understand and know how to solve:
- Authentic learning experiences
- Improving digital literacy
Difficult challenges, which we understand but can’t quite identify solutions for right now:
- Adapting organizational designs to the future of work
- Advancing digital equity
Wicked challenges, which are complex to even define, let alone solve:
- Economic and political pressures
- Rethinking the roles of educators
Higher education also has some important technological developments in store in the next five years.
- One year or less to adoption: Analytics technologies and makerspaces
- Two to three years to adoption: Adaptive learning technologies and artificial intelligence
- Four to five years to adoption: Mixed reality and robotics
The trends, challenges, and developments outlined in the report fit into six larger themes.
1. Expanding access and equity: “People expect to be able to learn and work anywhere, with constant access to learning materials and to one another,” according to the report. Learning environments must be equally accessible for all learners and instructors, and considerations must include things such as adaptive learning engagements and affordability.
2. Spurring innovation: Higher-ed institutions are often the very places where new inventions and developments begin. Graduates of these institutions will be the ones who enter and improve the workforce.
3. Fostering authentic learning: Students learn by experiencing and creating, and colleges and universities will have to keep pace if they are to offer students hands-on, real-world experiences as learning evolves.
4. Leveraging data: Data can inform more personalized learning experiences, and it can offer a more holistic picture of student success. A campus culture that encourages sharing and breaks down silos can lead to more effective data use.
5. Improving the teaching profession: As students take more ownership of their learning, the nature of teaching is changing. Faculty must balance a student-centered approach while still effectively but subtly facilitating. This is challenging when institutions emphasize research over instruction, and programs that recognize the importance of instruction are essential.
6. Spreading digital fluency: Technology tools are rendered useless if they are not integrated into learning in meaningful and effective ways. Students will enter a workforce that demands digital literacy and digital skills, and they must be able to connect digital tools to desired outcomes.