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6 Biggest Trends Driving Ed Tech Adoption

The latest Educause Horizon Report identifies six trends expected to have a major impact on higher education both in the near future and in the long term.

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The top trends accelerating technology adoption in higher education today range from the concrete — redesigning learning spaces — to the more amorphous — rethinking how institutions work. That's according to the latest Educause Horizon Report, an analysis of the trends and technology developments that are likely to impact higher ed in the short-, mid- and long-term future. After releasing a preview in February, the higher education IT association announced the full version of the report today.

The report defined "trends" as those topics "expected to have a significant impact on the ways in which colleges and universities approach their core mission of teaching, learning, and creative inquiry." This year, the trends represented a dual emphasis: on the student and on innovation. "The topics in this year's trends section reflect a strong focus on meeting students' expectations of constant access to platforms, learning materials, and resources to learn anywhere and anytime," the report noted, as well as a conviction that "embracing innovation in higher education at the campus level will influence the ways in which institutions approach their core mission."

Driving ed tech adoption in the short term (one to two years) are: redesigning learning spaces and blended learning designs.

While learning spaces have made an appearance in Horizon Reports quite a few times in the past, "the transition to active learning classrooms and spaces in higher education has gained considerable momentum in recent years," the 2019 report noted. Key issues in this area include:

  • The need for "investments and strategic planning to renovate or construct classrooms, libraries, and common spaces where learning takes place";
  • The importance of "obtaining stakeholder buy-in and transforming pedagogical approaches";
  • The potential for virtual learning spaces and extended reality to "create more engaging and personal experiences for learners";
  • The need for faculty development and training to adopt pedagogy for active learning classrooms; and
  • A requirement for flexible design that incorporates both high- and low-tech approaches to learning.

Blended learning designs, also a frequent Horizon Report trend over the years, "have steadily increased as a favored course delivery model alongside fully online options." Among the issues here:

  • The integration of technology solutions such as media-rich digital learning platforms, personalized or adaptive courseware, and web conferencing tools;
  • Student preference for blended learning, in particular its flexibility, ease of access and use of sophisticated multimedia;
  • The challenges of scaling the blended model; and
  • The need to support faculty to design blended learning experiences.

Driving ed tech adoption in the mid term (three to five years) are: advancing cultures of innovation and growing focus on measuring learning.

Venture labs, incubators and other forms of business partnerships allow institutions to create a culture of innovation for their learners and offer students experiences that better prepare them for the workforce, the report said. "These entrepreneurial campus partnerships provide students with the chance to learn skills beyond conventional disciplinary knowledge and focus on workforce preparedness, giving graduates an advantage when they enter the job market." Issues here include:

  • The opportunity to create student experiences that iterate beyond traditional education;
  • The importance of learning to "fail forward" and nurturing a culture of experimentation; and
  • The benefits to students of entering the workforce with "the exposure gained from the entrepreneurial mind-set," which better prepares them for "rapidly evolving business sectors."

The growing focus on measuring learning can be attributed to the fact that "the methods and tools that institutions use to capture and measure academic readiness, learning progress, and other indicators of student success have matured as courseware products and platforms have gained widespread use," the report said. "The expanse of data generated by increasingly integrated digital learning environments, together with emerging open standards for learning data, offers institutions new opportunities to assess, measure, and document learning." Key issues include:

  • The challenge of leveraging rich data from across multiple platforms;
  • Use of learning analytics to inform student progress is often hampered by difficulties in distinguishing between different types of learner data;
  • "The heightened need to interact with institutional research units and the expanded role of teaching and learning centers call for a rethinking of departmental collaboration"; and
  • The importance of separating measures of engagement with learning materials (e.g., clicks on web pages) from assessment (what students have actually learned).

Finally, driving ed tech adoption in the long term (five or more years) are: rethinking how institutions work and modularized and disaggregated degrees.

"Institutions of higher education are actively developing new strategies to rethink how they fulfill their mission," the report noted. A plethora of issues are involved:

  • "Economic and political pressures have heightened scrutiny of the merit of a postsecondary education, especially in light of cost, access, and workforce readiness";
  • "Increasingly diverse student populations have added momentum to the attention paid to student success" — in particular, the focus on low completion rates and high student loan debt;
  • The "new majority learner" is older, more likely to be balancing work and family with college, and "has vastly different needs from those of a traditional-aged student navigating a residential college experience";
  • A "shift to student-centered learning requires faculty and academic advisors alike to act as guides and facilitators"; and
  • A sentiment that "higher education should move toward an approach that prioritizes 'what workers need' — specifically, skills for jobs."

Modularized and disaggregated degrees are providing learners with "options for education and training that transcend traditional pathways" in higher education. "Opportunities for learners to blend their formal education with modularized online coursework, at an affordable cost, are establishing a learning continuum along which an evolving workforce can easily upskill," the report noted. Issues include:

  • The use of badges and certificates to "provide prospective employers with evidence of skills gained through a wide range of educational opportunities and venues";
  • The potential for competing models of education to "destabilize or replace the traditional campus system"; and
  • The benefit of allowing learners to "build their own degree" and increase their odds of success by combining traditional and non-traditional degree paths.

The Horizon Report is based on insights from a global panel of 98 experts across the higher education landscape who have experience piloting or implementing emerging ed tech, have presented or published in the field, or who have held advisory roles on a campus or in their sector. A comprehensive look at the panel methodology and discussion is available here. The full report is openly available on the Educause site.

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