The term millennial is a word that big education aspires to connect with, yet has trouble relating to. Too often in higher education it simply means 20-somethings, and the question then becomes: “How do we market to millennials so they understand that education is an experience?”
Make no mistake–experiential learning is a requirement. It only intensifies as you move up the educational ladder. Concepts become multi-faceted and gray. They are no longer black-and-white with correct answers, but rather a multitude of scenarios requiring critical thinking to arrive at one of infinite possible solutions. And for that reason, college is a valuable experience. Never mind the social and cultural elements–college excels at teaching you how to think.
The new paradigm
But, getting to that point in the discussion requires a foundation. Learning to enable discussion and go to the next level used to be done by reading books and taking notes. For better or worse, that’s no longer engaging–at least not in the way that today’s learners expect. Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Netflix, and others now command an average of 2.5 hours of daily viewing by the public. This is education’s competition, as those platforms have found a way to capture interest by delivering a personalized and adaptive experience to the user.
(Next page: How edtech companies are aiding higher learning)
When universities saw the digital shift, there was an immediate rush to put curriculum online to meet the new trend of digital learning. But it largely didn’t work, because it has still been the same old education, just with a different wrapper. As students became standardized to the marvels of the tech giants, they came to expect more.
That’s where edtech companies pushing novel learning paradigms and platforms have come to the aid of higher learning. A university doesn’t have the focus and budget to figure out how to gamify learning; Duolingo and others do. A university doesn’t have the resources for a dedicated team of engineers to focus on adaptive education, but companies like Quizlet can. University budgets are often planned out a year in advance, whereas a company like mine can move resources to add a groundbreaking feature as soon as we dream it.
Private companies have found a way to get higher education (and, indeed, the entire sector) on the same playing field with Fortune 50 tech players vying for learners’ attention. They can deliver content in short, segmented bursts, make it engaging, and offer an experience that yields a similar chemical effect on the brain as a favorite social channel. By specializing and taking on pieces of the problem, private companies can accelerate needed change in teaching approaches.
As we’ve progressed, universities have come to understand. Initially, they thought it was edtech vs. education; there was animosity. Now, they realize it’s education vs. social media and entertainment; the stakes are higher than ever before. As our education system comes under attack at every level, the private-public education community has begun to find ways to work together.
Collaboration is key
Universities now openly seek partnerships to help them deliver the core material their students need. Companies are finding the best educators in the world and featuring them on scalable platforms, making sure that baseline of information is of the highest quality. Students are using technology on their phones, having experiences not that different from the app icons two rows down, which is making learning something they want to do.
In turn, that’s driving concepts like the flipped classroom to become the norm, not the exception. It’s enabling universities to home in on the experience that sets them apart. Professors shift from their former roles as lecturers to discussants. This change makes them more effective; their expertise is rarely at the foundational level, but rather deep into the nuances and challenges that got them the job in the first place.
And we’re all better for it. More learners are entering higher education than ever before. The same can be said for the graduation rates of full-time students. Both parties–the learners and the institutions–are finding tools that fit the new device-centric, digital normal to supplement their in-person experience.
Education is finally finding its footing. The necessity, born of competition from outside and seemingly unrelated entities, has spawned irreversible and positive changes in how education is approached. Every day, new companies are forming to continue pushing innovation, improving our educational engine as we begin to train people for the jobs of tomorrow.
Change is one of the few guarantees in life. Just like the move from animals to vehicles, education went through a period of experimentation and transformation. Today, those vehicles undergo another shift as clean energy and autonomous driving impacts the industry at its most basic level. Education has been no different. Where the analogy diverges is the people’s perception and willingness to embrace the change. We’re lucky in that regard. Through technology, learners have made it clear what they want and need. Now, it’s just up to us to deliver it.
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