A new report imagines where the future of higher education might go after the pandemic

6 key trends impacting the future of higher education

A new report imagines where the future of higher education might go after the pandemic

The future of higher education will be impacted by technologies and practices that focus on social equity, accessible teaching and learning formats, effective data use, and more.

For better or for worse, higher ed will never be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic–and experts have identified trends, technologies, and practices that will shape the future of higher education and that will influence teaching and learning across the globe.

The 2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report Teaching and Learning Edition takes a look at the convergence of these trends and imagines where the future of higher education might go after the pandemic.


Horizon panelists identified a number of trends across five categories that will influence and shape the future of higher education and postsecondary learning.

Social: Remote work/learning, widening of the digital divide, mental health issues

Technological: Widespread adoption of hybrid learning models, increased use of learning technologies, online faculty development

Economic: Decreasing higher education funding, demand for new/different workforce skills, uncertainty in economic models

Environmental: Climate change, reduction in work travel, sustainable development

Political: Increase in online globalization, rise of nationalism, public funding for higher education

Key technologies and practices

Panelists also identified key technologies and practices that will have a noticeable impact on higher education moving forward, and they focused on the technologies and practices that are new or that have considerable developments.

Artificial intelligence: There’s much potential for AI in higher ed and it is already found in learning management systems, library services, mobile apps, and more. AI can address current challenges in teaching, learning, and student achievement, and it also offers the chance to rethinking curriculum and academic programming in a way to meet students’ changing expectations. Still, those in higher ed will need to keep ethics in mind–particularly the bias often reported in AI–moving forward.

Blended and hybrid course models: COVID-19 thrust virtual learning models into the spotlight and institutions rushed to develop and update their online learning platforms. But as many schools return to campus in the fall, there are more improvements to be made and considerations to be weighed, including whether to offer hybrid options even when campuses are fully opened.

Learning analytics: Critically important to higher ed, learning analytics is part of a larger field of data analytics helping higher-ed leaders make decisions to better serve diverse learners as their needs evolve across higher-ed landscapes. Concerns over data access and privacy remain.

Microcredentialing: Microcredentials demonstrate knowledge and competencies, are attainable in shorter periods of time, and tend to be more narrowly-focused. Growing popularity is forcing many higher-ed institutions to examine their curriculum development processes, how credit and noncredit programs operate, and how they serve a student population that is more and more diverse.

Open educational resources: OER are freely available and accessible from anywhere, and students who were thrown for a loop during the pandemic (as most students were) turned to OER in place of inaccessible textbooks. Perhaps one of the biggest areas of potential is in leveling the equity playing field for students who don’t have access to learning resources.

Quality online learning: The pandemic turned attention to the need for high-quality online learning programs, how to deliver such learning, and how to effectively design and teach engaging online learning courses. Many institutions have turned their attention to quality assurance and are taking a more intentional look at the instructional content and accessibility features of their online learning programs.

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Laura Ascione