A new report delves into the various components that are critical to student engagement and that are shaping higher ed's trends and challenges

6 trends that are key to student engagement and success

Skills-based and lifelong learning options, access to technology, generative AI guidelines and training and mental health support are shaping higher ed's trends and challenges

Key points:

Students, administrators, and faculty want more certificate and apprenticeship programs, express an ongoing need for mental health support, and demonstrate a continued concern over education accessibility, according to the 2023 State of Student Success and Engagement in Higher Education report from Instructure, the maker of Canvas LMS.

The study, in partnership with Hanover Research, spotlights current trends and movements within higher education and critical drivers of student success and engagement.

“The once-traditional picture of higher education student success and career readiness is changing. Students are no longer linearly learning new skills, but independently advancing their skill set,” said Melissa Loble, Chief Academic Officer for Instructure. “As the workplace continues to evolve, students are exploring alternative learning options, such as skills-based certificate and apprenticeship programs, that provide flexibility and allow them to get into the workforce faster or upskill and explore different career paths.” 

In its fourth year, the State of Higher Education global research highlights survey results from over 6,100 current students, administrators and faculty from 2-year, 4-year, public and private higher education institutions. The respondents, from 17 countries, provide insights on factors impacting student success and engagement and challenges facing higher education worldwide. 

The report uncovered six global trends students, administrators and faculty identified as most important to student success and student engagement in 2023.

  1. Skills-based learning is becoming the most valued for its practical application in the workforce.

As the workforce shifts and more jobs move to remote or hybrid, the need for students to be able to demonstrate proof of skills to potential employers increases. Career advancement (61 percent) and the desire to learn new skills (61 percent) are the factors most likely to influence students to pursue a skills-based learning opportunity. Other primary factors include cost (52 percent) and program flexibility (48 percent). 

Students increasingly desire courses and programs that undoubtedly prepare them for the workforce and expect educators to make more personalized courses, offer hands-on, practical learning opportunities and support on-the-go access. 

  1. Certificate and apprenticeship programs are becoming highly valued by both students and employers for their demonstrable proof of workplace skills. 

Longer life expectancy and changes in the workplace are driving a fundamental shift toward lifelong learning. As more students seek skills-based learning opportunities to supplement their traditional degrees, higher education institutions can adapt their offerings to meet this need. Of the skills-based learning opportunities institutions currently offer for lifelong learning, students are most likely to consider certificates (54 percent) and apprenticeships (42 percent). 

  1. Generative AI guidelines and training are needed for educators and students or schools risk a growing divide in skill development. 

While technology played a vital role in getting students and educators through the pandemic, AI has introduced a growing divide in the adoption of tech tools in the classroom. Most students and educators know how to use generative AI, but have not used the tools in their coursework. 

Of the institutions surveyed, only one-quarter (27 percent) have strict guidelines and more than one-third (39 percent) only have light guidelines on generative AI use. Training results are similar with nearly one-third (31 percent) of institutions not offering any options. By establishing guidelines and training for generative AI, colleges, and universities have an opportunity to aid educators in driving consistency for learners.

  1. Access to technology has the greatest impact on student success and engagement, but we haven’t solved the accessibility gap for many learners. 

While the pandemic improved accessibility, as technology and education evolve there remain “learning deserts” — regions throughout the world where there is limited or no access to education opportunities due to geographic constraints such as proximity of education institutions, no access to technology or edtech tools, unreliable Wi-fi connections or the inability to travel from home. One-quarter (27 percent) of students and educators surveyed believe they live in a learning desert. While these learning deserts still exist, the increased use of technology in education has helped decrease their existence.

“Increased accessibility in education creates a more inclusive, supportive and diverse learning environment that fosters student success by addressing individual needs, promoting engagement and preparing students for meaningful careers and lifelong learning,” said one educator from the Asia-Pacific region. 

  1. Students and educators value mental health resources but really want time off. 

Psychological well-being and access to mental health resources have a great impact on student engagement and faculty support. Many institutions provide mental health resources through a learning management system (47 percent) and connect students to in-person and virtual counseling (41 percent) – the top mental health resources offered by institutions. The question remains, however, if students are easily finding and accessing those resources. 

  1. Educators feel most empowered when they are given autonomy, respect and holistic support.

Today’s educators are dealing with bigger classes, more regulation and demands for more flexibility from students in how they want to learn. They would like most for their institutions to offer additional personal development (45 percent), acknowledge/award their achievements (43 percent), and provide them with opportunities to give feedback (32 percent). 

“To feel empowered by my institution means being cared for in terms of my physical and mental health as well as getting chances for my personal growth and career development,” said one educator from the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. 

“As we move into 2024, the contents of this study constitute a valuable resource for institutions, faculty and administrators alike to look into future strategies and resources that can help them address the challenges that higher education is facing worldwide,” Loble said. “Likewise, Instructure is committed to taking those results into account to intentionally improve and design the products in the Instructure Learning Platform,” Loble said.

This press release originally appeared online.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.