The rise of data analytics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, higher ed software and other key digital technologies has transformed virtually every industry – and higher education is no exception. These technologies have radically altered the way study material is taught and how today’s students learn. Additionally, organizations that remain at the vanguard of technological development earn a significant competitive advantage.
To stay current, it’s essential to understand how today’s trends are developing and where they might be headed in the future. This is particularly the case today, as we are at the beginning of a period of profound, technology-fueled transition – one that will radically reinvent the very process of education.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the most significant technology trends in higher education.
One of the most pervasive trends of the moment is the move toward mobile learning. In the US alone, the share of smartphone users is 77% with 92% of the users belonging to the age group of 18-29. The idea behind mobile learning is simple: incorporating smartphones, tablets and other portable devices into an instruction program. This is important because smartphones and tablets are deeply intertwined with the lives of younger people. According to a report by Flurry Data, these users spend an average of 5 hours per day on their smartphones! By using mobile devices to teach or train, we can reach students where they are most comfortable and accessible.
The practical benefits are considerable: Students can collaborate and create content anywhere and anytime. Software applications allow students to submit questions in real time, while teachers can gather immediate feedback and adapt their teaching style or material to better fit student needs.
The ability to effectively monitor student progress – and make on the fly adjustments as needed – is an essential part of successful instruction. Adaptive learning technologies help higher education institutions do exactly this. Instructors can use software that allows adaptations to be made depending on student progress; for example, if a student scores highly on a particular learning section, adaptive technologies can then automatically assign a reduced amount of study materials. Conversely, should students struggle, more homework or study problems can be allocated.
Institutions that make proper use of adaptive learning technologies will ultimately help students achieve more positive outcomes through the use of customized lesson planning. A fitting example of this can be the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon which is delivering adaptive learning to the students. A study on this education program showed that there was no significant difference in the exam scores of students enrolled in Open Learning Initiative’s introductory statistics course as compared with other students. Moreover, the OLI students took 50% less time to learn the concepts.
Another leading initiative in the field of adaptive learning is the “Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program” commissioned by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has provided a grant of $100,000 to accelerate its implementation in higher education.
As the technology advances, data collection and analysis will become even more refined, allowing adaptive learning to make way for a truly personalized approach to teaching.
Next-Generation Learning Management Systems (LMS)
30 years ago, there were only 15 LMS providers in the world. Today, the number exceeds 700. The global LMS market is growing exponentially at a CAGR of 24% (2017 to 20121) and set to become a USD 19.05 billion worth market by 2021. In the USA, nearly 99% of higher education institutes have adopted an LMS (Dahlstrom, Brooks, & Bichsel, 2014). According to an Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) survey, 85% of faculty use an LMS, and 83% of students use an LMS (Berking & Gallagher, 2016; Brown, Dehoney, & Millichap, 2015).
Learning Management Systems have become essential tools in higher education by making the administration, management, tracking and reporting of courses vastly more efficient. While the functionality offered by these software platforms has already transformed the field of education, next-generation systems are poised to introduce even greater changes.
Tomorrow’s LMS will offer an even greater degree of personalization and efficiency by using advanced data analysis to create a deeper understanding of students. This information can be integrated with other key data points (grades, demographic data, social data, etc.) to allow organizations to grasp how students can best be reached – then tailor their offerings to meet those needs.
Few areas in tech have generated more hype than artificial intelligence (AI). The idea of smart, self-learning machines assisting us in virtually every aspect of life is deeply compelling – especially now that AI technology has begun to mature.
In the realm of higher education, AI is poised to have a revolutionary impact, allowing for the creation of personalized learning to a degree never before imaginable. These learning plans will be enabled by the use of advanced data-collecting algorithms in next-generation Learning Management Systems. Additionally, AI-based tutors will help students master material by offering detailed feedback based on their own preferences and attributes. This, in turn, will allow instructors to focus on other tasks like creating compelling content where they can add even more value.
Higher education institutes have already started leveraging AI technology to solve fundamental problems. Chatbots developed by the Technical University of Berlin use AI to answer questions from students to help them plan their course of studies. In an instance at Georgia Institute of Technology, students couldn’t tell the difference between feedbacks they received from a human being and a bot. The universities such as Georgia State and Arizona State are using AI to predict student scores and indicate when students need intervention to help them score better and prevent them from dropping out.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
Imagine if all the devices we use on a daily basis were connected to the cloud and could improve their processes through data collection. In other words, a world of smart devices. Fortunately for us, that scenario (called The Internet of Things) is unfolding today but how fast is this technology growing? The numbers paint a rosy picture of the IoT market: According to a market forecast by ABI research, the number of connected devices will soar to approximately 40.9 billion by 2020. Another report by International Data Corporation states that the worldwide market for IoT solutions will reach $7.1 trillion in the next four years with the top drivers for creating an IoT strategy being reduced time to market, increased productivity and process automation.
Connected devices can track and analyze data, monitor ongoing processes, make adjustments and send alerts. In the context of higher learning, these connected devices can collect critical data about how students learn, allowing for the design of highly-personalized lessons and ultimately improving educational outcomes. In addition to classroom improvements, the Internet of Things promises a future where campuses can be run in a vastly more efficient manner. Energy costs can be lowered, and wearable devices can monitor students for signs of physical or mental health problems that require quick attention.
For hundreds of years, the primary pedagogical model remained unchanged: Students went to a centralized location, then they interacted with an instructor in a physical classroom for a lesson. Learning activities were consigned mostly to the campus. The Internet, mobile computing and other trends in higher education disrupted this model and ushered in an era of remarkable change.
The next great leap in this regard may involve virtual reality. By allowing students to learn in deeply immersive, digitally-rendered spaces, teaching is freed from the necessity of being in one physical area or one place in time.
There are two aspects of this technology: Virtual Reality (VR), which puts the user in a virtually created space offering complete immersion and Augmented Reality (AR), which takes our current reality and adds something to it (just like playing Pokémon Go). Imagine students learning about U.S. history by experiencing the Battle of Gettysburg in a virtual setting, or taking a 360-degree tour of the Roman Colosseum, rendered in granular detail. The Arlington Science Focus School takes its students on virtual trips to the Smithsonian Museum. Many prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton, Columbia, etc. are using virtual reality tours for higher education marketing to increase enrollments.
As virtual reality matures, institutions of learning will be able to use the technology to deepen student engagement with study material, allowing them to visit places that are almost unimaginable today.
Whether you’re a student, a teacher, an administrator or a software developer, this is an inspiring time to be involved with higher education. Higher education technology has had an enormous impact on the way students are taught, improving classroom outcomes while also creating greater efficiencies on campus.
As remarkable as these changes have been, they pale in comparison to the bigger shifts heralded by the maturation of the technologies listed above. Many of these changes represent an actual paradigm shift; higher education may be all but unrecognizable in just a few decades, as virtual reality, AI, and other key technologies radically reimagine the pedagogical process.
WizIQ higher ed software helps universities and colleges ride the wave of the change by providing them with a comprehensive and scalable technology platform to take their academic operations online.