#1: 5 major online-learning challenges—and how to solve them

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 22nd of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Karen Watts has been teaching adult education classes since 1999. A faculty member at Bellingham Technical College in Washington state, she has taught in both face-to-face and online environments throughout her career. In her online classes, Watts says, she often hears from students who are surprised that the class is “so hard.”

Perhaps they weren’t expecting an online course to be demanding. Or, maybe they lacked the self-discipline required to succeed in an online learning environment. Whatever the reason, Watts encounters many more students who struggle to learn online than she sees laboring in a traditional course.

Online learning can be more difficult for instructors as well as students. Not seeing students face to face makes it harder to gauge how they’re responding to the material, and there’s the additional hurdle of mastering the technology. But there are many strategies that instructors can use to help students succeed online, as well as approaches that institutions can employ to support faculty more effectively.

In interviews, faculty and administrators who have extensive experience with online learning revealed these five key challenges that often stand in the way of success—and tips for overcoming them.


#2: Are you up on the latest trends in higher education?

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 20th of this year, was our #2 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

An increased focus on measuring learning, along with putting more thought into redesigning learning spaces, are two trends with great significance for higher ed in the next couple of years, according to the Horizon Report.

Here are six trends that will have wide-ranging impacts on higher education.

Short-term trends

1. Growing focus on measuring learning spaces: This trend encompasses the interest in assessment and the wide variety of methods and tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document academic readiness, learning progress, and skill acquisition. As societal and economic factors redefine the skills needed in today’s workforce, colleges and universities must rethink how to define, measure, and demonstrate subject mastery and soft skills such as creativity and collaboration.

2. Redesigning learning spaces: As universities engage with strategies that incorporate digital elements and accommodate more active learning in the physical classroom, they are rearranging physical environments to promote these pedagogical shifts. Educational settings are increasingly designed to support project-based interactions with attention to greater mobility, flexibility, and multiple device usage. To improve remote communication, institutions are upgrading wireless bandwidth and installing large displays that allow for more natural collaboration on digital projects.


#3: 41 edtech predictions for higher ed in 2019

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 1st of this year, was our #3 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

We asked 20 edtech executives to look into their crystal balls and share their thoughts about what will happen in 2019. In addition to the usual suspects—artificial intelligence (AI), active learning, and microcredentials—people predicted more nuanced uses of data (to handle campus security, for instance), chatbots to help with studying, and blockchain-enabled digital student IDs to improve security. Read on to see what’s in store for 2019…

Eran Ben-Ari, chief product officer, Top Hat

• Faculty-centric student success with be prioritized. Faculty are the most important components of an effective university-wide student success program. Students report higher levels of engagement and learning when their professors use active and collaborative learning techniques in the classroom. As this trend grows, students will be provided better learner outcomes and administrators will gain ways to identify cases where a student may be falling behind or need additional resources and intervene as necessary.

• Classroom engagement boosted through tech use. The best edtech platforms allows professors to move into engaging, action-filled, active learning pedagogies before, during, and after class. With the wealth of data collection (through the use of technology), it is possible for professors to act on the data in real time.

• Making edtech choices based on faculty needs. With the steady increase of the average number of students per class, there is a growing need for technology solutions that allow professors to engage students wherever they may be on their learning journey regardless of class size. Student success will increasingly depend upon these choices.

Chris Coleman, president, Woz U

• A growing number of individuals are going to focus on taking an accelerated learning path in 2019. The expectations of the next generation of learners place an acute focus on employer-valued skills to enter their desired profession. The notion of a ‘well-rounded education’ is no longer going to be synonymous with taking marginally useful college courses.

• 2019 will see the employer sentiment shifting towards more interest in ‘learners’ than ‘experience’ when hiring employees, as demonstration continues to offer more value to organizations than memorization. Next year, I expect to see more employers less interested in credentials and more interested in demonstrable competencies when adding staff to their workforce.

• I foresee systems evolving next year towards a self-directed format, where data-driven platforms provide students with recommendations for learning units that are in line with in-demand careers. As skillsets are identified by employers for future openings, students will be educated with the proficiency in sought-after areas for a pathway towards a thriving profession.

Breck DeWitt, education strategist, Dell EMC

• Higher ed is already making serious investments in Internet of Things (IoT) and supporting projects from smart energy, security, transportation, navigation, and wayfinding services, to improving the selling of concessions on college game days as part of their digital campus initiatives. By 2025, we expect one in three universities to make a significant investment in IoT research or student/professor projects to fuel initiatives that simplify life and challenges.


#4: Higher-ed leaders: Here’s how Generation Z learns best

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 15th of this year, was our #4 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Does your faculty embrace video?

Members of Generation Z say they vastly prefer video as a learning method, according to Beyond Millennials: The Next Generation of Learners, a recent study from Pearson and The Harris Poll. The study notes that these students, ages 14-23, have had their educational expectations shaped by technology in more ways than the 24- to 40-year-old millennials.

Generation Z ranked YouTube second only to teachers as a learning tool. In fact, they rank YouTube well ahead of lectures, in-person collaboration with classmates, learning applications, and books.


#5: 3 challenges & solutions around online learning

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 11th of this year, was our #5 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

For 15 years, I’ve been strongly committed to educational excellence and creating a positive learning experience in the online environment. The progress made in the distance education community over the past decade is astounding. After all, enrollment in online courses is increasing, and flipped classrooms and hybrid programs are becoming more common.

Bottom line: The nature of learning is changing and we as educators and administrators must keep up.

These days, everything from your social life to banking is online. Online learning is necessary for some, and it’s being adopted at all levels, including K-12, college, and even for certification programs.

Related: Debunked: 8 online learning myths that need to disappear

Although online education has its limitations, there are three benefits that show why e-learning may be the greatest revolution in today’s education.

1. Take flexibility, for example. Online learning allows universities to reach more people who may not have the option to attend classes in person. Students may have to commute long distances or juggle schedules for their kids that prevent their ability to take traditional courses in the classroom. For those going back to school in later years, they likely have jobs that make it impossible to travel for classes, so an online education offers them the opportunity to study whenever it fits into their lives.


#6: 7 new online education trends

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 26th of this year, was our #6 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Career and employment goals continue to be one of the top reasons students pursue online education, according to an annual report recapping online education trends. A full 69 percent of surveyed online students say employment is their primary goal for enrolling in an online education program, according to the Online Education Trends Report from BestColleges.com.

Related: 7 myths about online learning in higher ed

This year’s report includes candid feedback from more than 450 school administrators and 1,500 students.

Students are grouped into categories extending beyond the age-based labels of traditional and nontraditional:

  • Aspiring academics are ages 18-24 and are focused on academic studies
  • Coming of Age students are 18-24 and are exploring college academics, social offerings, and a variety of activities
  • Academic Wanderers are older students who know the advantages of a college degree but are undecided about academic and career goals and how to achieve them
  • Career Starters encompass a wide age range and are interested in college as a path to a specific career
  • Career Accelerators are older students with some college and job experience interested in college to advance in their current field
  • Industry Switchers are older students with some college and job experience interested in transitioning to a new career field

A steady theme in online education trends is cost and financial concerns. Those concerns continue to be students’ biggest challenges when choosing an online program. As in previous surveys, students identified the top two most challenging aspects of making decisions about online education as “estimating annual costs” and “applying for financial aid and identifying sufficient funding sources.”


#7: These 10 hard and soft skills will be key in 2019

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 17th of this year, was our #7 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

It’s not always easy to measure soft skills, but more and more, they’re proving crucial in an increasingly competitive workforce facing a shortage of highly-qualified workers, according to new data from LinkedIn.

A large majority (89 percent) of professionals feel their skills are more important than their job titles, according to 2018 LinkedIn research that paints a picture of the changing workforce and the skills that will help workers achieve the most success.

Additional LinkedIn Learning research notes that the combination of a short shelf life of skills, combined with a tightening labor market, leads to skills gaps. Talent developers, executives, and people managers agree that training for soft skills is a top priority for talent development teams–all the more reason why job applicants should focus on strengthening those skills. In fact, 57 percent of senior leaders today say soft skills are more important than hard skills.


#8: 5 ways to help students feel connected to your campus

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 18th of this year, was our #8 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Students who report a strong sense of belonging at their college or university typically do better in school, and a new survey points to five key steps schools can take to support students’ mental health and success.

This sense of belonging is critical for students, especially students who are first-generation college students and students of color from low-income backgrounds. In fact, feeling a sense of belonging has been proven to have an effect on college completion rates.

A report based on a survey of alumni from the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which aims to prepare its K-12 students to thrive in education and the workforce, points to clear-cut steps institutions can take to help students feel positive about their path.


#9: 4 major priorities for community college leaders

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on August 12th of this year, was our #9 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Technical college and community college leaders from 12 college systems across the country sent a letter to Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee leadership, calling for the adoption of a job-driven “Community College Compact.”

The Community College Compact represents a set of four postsecondary policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition, vetted by a range of stakeholders–including academic institutions, employers, community-based organizations and workforce development boards–and supported by voters and business leaders.

Related content: Schools focus on community college pipeline

In the letter, community college leaders urge Congress to adopt four policy solutions to modernize the Higher Education Act.

1. Eliminate the bias against working students in need of federal financial aid

In today’s economy, approximately 80 percent of all jobs require some form of education or training, and more than 50 percent of jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”–meaning they require more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. Technical and community college leaders urge lawmakers to consider the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839; H.R. 3497) led by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-LA-02), Andy Levin (D-MI-09), Steven Horsford (D-NV-04), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA-03) and John Katko (R-NY-24). This legislation would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality education and training programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks.


#10: 4 things my college did to more than double our graduation rate

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 10th of this year, was our #10 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

I’ve spent most of my career in the community college setting and much of that time has been as president of Warren County Community College (WCCC), a smaller New Jersey institution less than two hours from New York City.

A benefit to leading at a smaller school like WCCC is the opportunity to try new things, even radical things—without some of the challenges that might come when initiating change at a large institution.

One of my main goals at WCCC—and a goal of all types of institutions—is increasing the graduation rate. Community colleges nationwide have set a goal to reach a 50-percent graduation rate. We’ve undertaken a few initiatives at WCCC that have helped us more than double graduation rates, and many of these initiatives can be replicated on other campuses.

4 steps to improving graduation rates

Step 1: Remove remediation

At WCCC, we took a bold first step in our quest to improve graduation rates. By abolishing remedial courses, we immediately saw our graduation rates double. Remedial courses often become a trap for community college students—few actually complete the courses and those that don’t are gated from the credit-bearing courses they need for their degree. Of course, this not a decision that is made lightly, and there are critics on both sides of the equation, but the immediate positive impact on graduation rates is undeniable.