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5 E-Learning Trends for Higher Ed

Mobile devices, digital textbooks, online environments, and other e-learning tools have permeated every corner of higher education over the last few years and the trend is expected to continue. To get some insights into what's on the horizon, Campus Technology spoke with a group of academics and instructional technologists. Here are their five e-learning trends to watch.

Digital texts will continue to gain ground
Digital textbooks have been on the college CIO's mind for years, but 2012 could be the year when e-readers make their debut in more classrooms. At George Fox University in Newberg, OR, for example, CIO Greg Smith said the college is currently converting its bricks-and-mortar bookstore into one that supplies digital textbooks from vendors like Amazon and Powell's Books. He said the move reduces book costs for students, ensures that they can easily access the latest versions of the texts, and eliminates the need for physical books and a location from which to sell them. Using digital texts also eases the financial burden of running a bookstore. "It's pretty well known that schools--particularly smaller institutions--don't make money off of their bookstores," said Smith, who expects a similar movement to digital texts to continue growing in the college library space. "We're already seeing universities digitally archiving books and changing the way their libraries are used. I expect that will continue in 2012 as well."

Distance learning programs will ramp up
With 4 percent of all undergraduates and 9 percent of graduate students completing their degree programs completely online according to the United States Department of Education report The Condition of Education 2011, schools are stepping up to the plate to support their distance education programs with robust tools. At Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, for example, CIO Pat Schoknecht said the school plans to invest in a real-time videoconferencing setup. "We do a lot of collaboration and shared teaching with other institutions, but we also strive to maintain strong faculty-student relationships," said Schoknecht. "We see telepresence as the right IT tool to help us achieve that goal." In 2012 Rollins College will install a telepresence room where students and faculty will be able to communicate in real-time using high-quality video capabilities. "We're moving in this direction because telepresence is becoming more mainstream," said Schoknecht. "It's not just Duke and Harvard that are using it anymore."

The online learning environment will be more personalized
The online learning environment will become more personalized in 2012 as advancements in interactive technologies take center stage on the college campus. For example, students and faculty will be able to use avatars to create more personalized and interactive learning experiences, said Frank Mulgrew, president of Post University's Online Education Institute, who sees the price decreases for such technology playing a key role in higher ed's adoption of such innovations. The technology applies in the physical classroom as well as in the distance learning space and in hybrid educational setups. "A lot of the technology is getting to price points where we can get it into the faculty's hands," said Mulgrew, "and allow faculty to create very high quality, interactive, creative content on the fly."

Faculty will use even more mobile technology and apps
Tablets, laptops, and mobile phones are each playing their respective roles in the mobile revolution that's taking place on today's college campus. That movement is expected to continue in 2012 as even more devices are introduced and as IT teams and faculty find increasingly creative ways to integrate the technology in the classroom. "The biggest trend on the instructional technology side right now is definitely the mobile movement," said Schoknecht. Within that spectrum lies the application--a component that Schoknecht said she expects to play a critical role in mobile adoption on campus in 2012. Their versatility and the fact that they don't rely on computer labs or expensive software packages make apps particularly attractive for higher ed. "For a few bucks you can get a very specialized function onto a computing device and do pretty amazing things with it," she said. "Faculty members who can match apps with their teaching objectives can tap into a cost effective system that's relatively easy for students to use."

IT tools and programs will become more tightly integrated
They aren't the sexiest technology topics, but systems integration and well-defined workflows will definitely be top-of-mind for many college CIOs in the coming year. "Students expect faster and more responsive service," said Mike Statmore, CIO at Post University in Waterbury, CT. "The only way to provide that is through integration of systems and workflow at every student touch point." Look for more institutions to tear down their disparate, department-specific IT systems in 2012 in favor of more integrated and interdependent systems that work together in real-time. "The ability to share information among multiple departments in real-time is no longer nice to have," Statmore said. "It's a need to have."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

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