tech trends

6 trends shaping the near and far future of higher ed

Annual Horizon Report details the trends, challenges, and developments to hit higher education

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 one to two years, according to the just-released Horizon Report.

The report measures the impact of innovative practices and technologies, along with unique challenges and developments, for higher-ed institutions across the globe. The research behind the report is a product of EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium, which EDUCAUSE acquired in early 2018.

The six trends are set to 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.

Mid-term trends

3. The proliferation of open educational resources: Adoption of OER has been driven largely by efforts to reduce the costs associated with higher education, though perhaps the most powerful potential outcome of OER is the opportunity for institutions to develop a broader set of investments in course development and infrastructure.

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.

Long-term trends

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.

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Laura Ascione

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