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14 Technology Predictions for Higher Education in 2023

How will technologies and practices like artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, digital transformation, and change management impact colleges and universities this year? Here's what the experts told us.

2023 trends to watch

In an open call on LinkedIn, we asked higher education and ed tech industry leaders to forecast the most important trends to watch in the coming year. Their responses reflect both the challenges on the horizon — persistent cyber attacks, the disruptive force of emerging technologies, failures in project management — as well as the opportunities that technology brings to better serve students and support the institutional mission. Here are 14 predictions to help steer your technology efforts in 2023.

1) Cybersecurity challenges will require critical culture change.

"Cybersecurity is going to remain at the forefront of priorities for all higher education institutions. We will be involved in updating processes and assuring compliance to protect our institutions against threats and vulnerabilities. This is especially challenging on several levels: First, our user community will be accessing services from not only the physical campus but more frequently from off campus as well. It is extremely important to change the culture of the community to foster greater awareness. Second, we are doing more with less, which makes it difficult to implement cybersecurity processes and technologies with the limited staff and financial resources available to us. Finally, decision-making and policies need to be more focused and timely in order to alleviate any risk of cybersecurity attacks. We are beginning to see the shift and the campus culture is adapting to new policies (e.g. multi-factor authentication, turning off their machines to receive updates, etc.); however, ongoing communication and training is a key component to maintaining the campus commitment to cybersecurity awareness." — Patricia Kahn, assistant vice president and CIO for Information Technology Services, College of Staten Island, The City University of New York

"Last year, more than 1,000 schools in the United States fell victim to ransomware attacks. In 2023, state and private institutions will continue to face the same challenges as there are a handful of security gaps most education institutions face that make them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. A lack of cybersecurity awareness and training as well as limited funding and resources are creating the ideal environment for criminals to gain access to substantial amounts of personal student data or research data. Institutions continue to be a popular target for ransomware attacks, as adversaries know schools only have a short window to update processes and get in front of risks (during the summer closures), making it harder to keep pace with updated security technologies and easier for cybercriminal groups to gain access to these networks and wreak havoc." — Rick McElroy, principal cybersecurity strategist, VMware

2) Artificial intelligence will drive a more personalized student experience.

"I predict that institutions will further utilize machine learning models to identify moments when students require just-in-time interventions to support them during their learning journey. Institutions will build a more robust data-driven culture where decisions are made by the precise analysis of various collected data points to gain insight and make informed decisions about complex student issues. A proactive data approach will lead to more successful outcomes and empower our students by providing essential tools and personalization to set them up for success."David Morales, CIO and senior vice president of technology, Western Governors University

"The student experience — a journey beginning prior to admission and continuing through graduation — will remain a high priority and focus of all universities. This journey requires continual improvements in support of students' academic goals. Advances in artificial intelligence will play a more integral part in ensuring student and university success. AI technology has evolved, providing even more data, insight, and agility. The ability to process audio, visual, and language data in relation to each other through multi-modal AI will enable universities to seamlessly blend automated and assisted experiences. Predictive AI will enable systems to adapt to individual student needs while connecting across any channel. Conversational AI solutions can provide human-like responses via text and voice modalities, which will increase students' satisfaction with university support. The influx of agile solutions into the market have demonstrated the need to truly support students by not just answering questions with known responses, but fashioning individual replies based on recent interaction data in a frictionless manner. Universities are positioned to provide a more natural, conversational, and engaging way to deliver immediate, personalized, and exceptional student support experiences 24/7." — Julie Johnston, executive education vertical director, Avaya

"Providing a more personalized experience and meeting the students where they are in their higher ed journey is becoming increasingly important. In our current tech environment, humans expect results in real-time — and so do our learners. That is why it is imperative to use new technology innovations for a modernized experience. Possible examples may include predictive analytics so enrollment coaches can better serve, as well as automated transcript tools backed by AI to speed up processing times, where manual efforts may take weeks or more to complete." — Matt Rhoton, CTO, EdPlus at Arizona State University

"So-called 'nontraditional' learners have made up the majority of higher education's student population for years, and 2023 will be the year that institutions finally learn how to engage them. Leaders in admissions, enrollment, and student success will look to emerging technologies like AI to lead with listening and scale their advisers' capacity for empathy. By listening at scale, advisers can better understand the challenges students face and deliver deep student support, while AI handles the more repetitive work to drive student success." — Drew Magliozzi, CEO, Mainstay

3) AI will also impact teaching and learning — but it doesn't have to be the enemy.

"The emergence of ChatGPT has scared educators nationwide and left them wondering if writing assignments are no longer relevant in a world where an AI chatbot can spit a decent essay out in a matter of seconds from a simple prompt. But as AI becomes increasingly prevalent in the classroom, 2023 will be the year that educators start to further differentiate 'process' from 'product' — and recognize the ways that AI can be supportive, rather than threatening, in the learning process. AI doesn't have to be an adversary to educators. Savvy educators are already using instructional AI tools in their classroom to help coach students dynamically on their process of writing, helping them learn how to improve their work (and reducing the incentive to cheat). That trend will only continue in the year to come. — Jessica Tenuta, co-founder and chief product officer, Packback

"What does embracing ChatGPT look like? Let's start with what it doesn't look like: It's not banning ChatGPT, firewalling it or forcing students to write in short, finite amounts of time in the artificial and distracting environment of a classroom. What it doesn't look like is a commitment to obsolescence and a refusal to accept what's only years away. A few short years from now, we (people, humans) will not be doing most of the writing of society. News stories, scientific papers, opinion pieces, fiction … most of it will be written by AI. Weird, right? But, true. I like to write and so, selfishly, I'm not too happy about ChatGPT and all it portends. But the future is here, like it or not, and AI just became a much better writer than most of us." — Thomas Mennella, associate professor of biology, Western New England University, and senior fellow, Academy for Active Learning Arts and Sciences

4) Evolving learning modalities will meet students where they are.

"The pandemic ushered in a new era of growth and acceptance of online learning across higher education. While not all pandemic-driven online learners will persist and remain online, we expect to see universities continue to expand their online and hybrid offerings, which provide students the flexibility they need to manage their continuing education with other professional and personal responsibilities. The demand for shorter, faster, and affordable programs with demonstrable career outcomes — such as microcredentials, badges, and industry certifications — will only grow as an alternative (and complement) to the traditional four-year degree model. Moreover, the adoption of hybrid and online learning options — both synchronous and asynchronous — will allow institutions to reach more students seeking to leverage higher education to earn promotions, change careers, and acquire new skills. That's a hard proposition to bet against, especially amid economic uncertainty." — Matthew Leavy, executive vice president, Wiley

"Research on changing learning modalities and delivery methods (especially working through the teacher shortage) is growing in popularity. The landscape is shifting from physical tasks to creative and strategic, with analytical thinking becoming more ingrained in the curriculum. Introducing more personalized, self-paced, and self-directed learning will be critical in order to meet the students where they are." — Johann Zimmern, global education marketing lead, Zoom

5) Better data integration will power decision-making and boost student outcomes.

"After many years of highlighting the critical need for higher education institutions to use data to drive decision-making, many will finally take action with dedicated strategies and investments, finding that the stakes are too high to leave it to chance or have analytics siloed in different divisions of the institution. As accrediting bodies move toward requiring institutions to provide more evidence of fiscal responsibility and sustainability, institutions will need to implement strategies and tools focused on scenario planning and financial transparency. Successful and sustainable institutions will need to connect investments with financial, operational and student outcomes to ensure institutional effectiveness now and in the future." — Darren Catalano, CEO, HelioCampus, and former vice president of analytics, University of Maryland Global Campus

"As institutions rely on discrete SaaS services for their operational support and department workflows, there is an emerging opportunity to leverage common SaaS Data Platforms and services for data persistence and aggregation. Unlocking the power of institutional data across disparate systems accelerates the potential for predictive analytics to support data driven decision-making, optimize institutional operations, and promote successful learner outcomes." — Mike Wulff, chief technology officer, Ellucian

6) Workforce partnerships will strengthen the connection between college and career.

"Economic indicators show even greater pressure on businesses to accelerate their efforts to find and recruit skilled talent in their respective businesses. This is likely even as businesses and industries face increasing economic pressures. In 2023, we're going to see greater collaboration between education and industry. The days of employers waiting patiently at the end of the talent pipeline for the right employees are over. It is increasingly important for businesses and educational institutions to work together to ensure that students are prepared for the workforce and specific jobs. As a result, we should expect to see more local talent development initiatives in order to fill the future workforce pipeline. On the flip side, education leaders will feel more pressure to form connections with business and industry to help students realize intended outcomes. This will ensure that students are learning the right things in the classroom (keeping them engaged) and that employers will have truly skilled workers to fill open job roles." Edson Barton, founder and CEO, YouScience

"We're in a time where every dollar is being questioned, and institutions are identifying where efficiencies can be gained, and where they might improve profitability. As some universities make these adjustments to meet changing economic pressures, their value proposition for prospective students is evolving. Schools that are focused on development beyond the classroom will be the successful ones in maintaining enrollment. In addition to offering programs like cooperative education, universities need to make clear the results and opportunities they can provide students post-graduation." — Kevin Bresser, vice president of sales for higher education, Syntellis

"Higher ed institutions will double down on their commitment to help students prepare for the changing world of work. We're already seeing both two-year and four-year institutions create new partnerships to both fill gaps in their tech training capacity — and align tech skills training to better meet regional workforce needs. Those sorts of partnerships will only continue to expand in 2023." — Joe Mitchell, COO, SkillStorm

7) Cybersecurity compliance will come into focus for higher education.

"While CIRCIA will not apply to higher ed institutions (yet), the penalties for non-compliance and cyber incidents are likely to increase. Not only that, but institutions that depend on Department of Defense contracts for essential research programs will soon need to show compliance with CMMC. Higher ed institutions should develop a compliance program built on a foundation of objective real-time data that represents the true state of security controls and can serve as a perfect lens for examining the institution's defensive posture and overall maturity state of its security program." — Matt Coose, founder and CEO, Qmulos, and former director of federal network security, National Cyber Security Division, Department of Homeland Security

8) Technology will streamline globalization and increase access.

"In 2023, we'll see more college and university leaders focus on globalization and the technology needed to manage international education processes across multiple departments for greater visibility and inclusion. The goal is to give staff more time to advise students and create more accessible programs for underrepresented students, so they too can be equipped with the skills and experiences needed to compete in a global workplace. This comes from an increased interest in driving internationalization and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives as students' interest in becoming global citizens and engaging with other cultures grows. The technology being leveraged may include using critical reporting to identify and reach first-generation students or to provide greater support for international students on campus to help ensure student engagement and retention. By broadening international enrollment and study abroad opportunities to more diverse populations, schools will help create a more globalized and tolerant world." — Anthony Rotoli, CEO, Terra Dotta

"It's clear that technology will continue to be a major factor in increasing access and opportunity for learners. We've already witnessed higher education institutions using tech-driven systems as a way to promote fairness and equity among those with disabilities, and this emphasis on digital learning is only expected to grow further. In addition, educational institutions are making bold moves to leverage the power of data. With improved tracking flows, educators can save time and enhance their teaching methods while helping support equality in education. These processes enable instructors to identify students who may be at risk before it is too late, giving them the opportunity to provide crucial assistance when needed most. And lastly, as we embark on this new year and a fresh start, the educational landscape is transforming with innovative models that are becoming more accessible to learners in all corners of the world. Flexible education options such as online and asynchronous learning provide students with viable opportunities for gaining knowledge — leading us into an era where access knows no boundaries." — Dr. Cristi Ford, vice president of academic affairs, D2L

9) Online platforms will enable just-in-time student support of all kinds.

"Without a doubt, our nation's students have been met with setbacks and disruptions over the past couple of years and need unwavering support no matter where they are on their academic journeys. Universities can use technology to create and launch Virtual Study Halls — online versions of a traditional campus library or faculty 'office hours.' By weaving in the hallmarks of mapping the model, engaging with program mentors, and building peer support communities, Virtual Study Halls will be effective platforms that provide the coaching, mentoring, advice, structure, and friendship that students across the entire education ecosystem may have lacked during the pandemic." — Dr. Stacey Ludwig Johnson, senior vice president and executive dean of the School of Education, Western Governors University

"Mental health will continue to be a top concern for institutions as the nihilistic malaise continues across younger generations of society. Institutions — many of which are already stretched financially — will be challenged with finding the resources to deliver crucial mental health support and intervention services, without necessarily hiring more staff. Technology will likely play a key role here as many institutions will look to implement telehealth solutions to supplement their existing health and wellness offerings. Outsourcing to established, trusted telehealth providers will enable institutions to offer their students the mental health services they need without the cost and burden of hiring dedicated staff. Some institutions may also explore predictive services that help identify students that may be at high risk of developing new or worsening mental health issues. Such services can help institutions intervene before an issue becomes too severe." — Nicole Engelbert, vice president for higher education development, Oracle

"Students are going to be more critical of how higher ed institutions invest in them relative to the cost of attendance. It will take form not just in a degree cost-benefit analysis, but also how the institution invests/supports students like them and whether the broader institution spending adequately reflects their personal values. This will be more pronounced for traditionally underserved populations." — Charles Parsons, vice president of product, engagement, Modern Campus

10) Digital accessibility will be central to an inclusive campus culture.

In 2023, colleges and universities will continue to make concerted efforts toward identifying priorities that build a culture consistent with their values and inclusive of those they depend on. As part of that work, I expect to see digital accessibility take on a more influential role as both a technical and cultural initiative. Campus leaders must be thinking about how we are preparing our respective communities to take a more proactive and comprehensive approach to removing barriers and promoting all aspects of digital equity. The role of digital accessibility is far more than a regulatory and compliance measure associated with risk mitigation or a content design strategy making for better consumption. Prioritizing digital accessibility practices in all aspects of campus operations and life creates a more supportive community and inclusive culture for all. — Brian Fodrey, assistant vice president, Business Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University

11) Individual skills and competencies will become valued units of education.

"We live in a world of specialization and differentiation. The 'degree' is being deconstructed into its constituent skills and experiences (continuing education, microcredentials, MOOCs, verifiable credentials, etc.). There will be a cambrian explosion in the attribution of value to individual skills and experiences. When we can deconstruct the credential, we allow the market to identify, incentivize, and provide opportunities to people at a much higher resolution. This is a trillion-dollar opportunity for the global economy. — Nick Dazé, CEO and cofounder, Heirloom

"The atomic unit of education is shrinking. Courses, credentials, and training options are getting smaller and more specific versus bigger and more generalized. Smaller atomic units of education allow training to be integrated into work at the project level. 2023 will be the year that learning management systems connect to knowledge management systems and where we recognize that workers are actually learners for a lifetime." — Taylor McLemore, managing director, Techstars Workforce Development Accelerator

"With the increasing adoption of Web 3.0 technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, the opportunities for higher education institutions to streamline access to education and provide students with relevant and personalized content are rapidly expanding. These technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way we think about education. One way institutions can do this is by incorporating the use of digital wallets, which can securely and efficiently showcase students' skills and credentials, including certifications and badges that are earned outside of traditional degree programs. These badges provide a more comprehensive picture of a student's abilities and qualifications, making it easier for employers and other organizations to assess their potential. Furthermore, institutions can benefit from having a digital verification system as it can increase trust from other institutions or employers, help to reduce administrative workload, and support students with transfer and mobility in their education." — Justin Louder, associate vice president for academic innovation, Anthology

12) The "new normal" will give way to the "new possible."

"2023 will be a year in which higher education needs to move from simply accepting and rationalizing a 'new normal' to embracing a 'new possible' in student experience. Next-generation learning models — virtual- and augmented-reality-driven learning experiences, competency-based models, and more — will enter a new phase of maturity. We'll focus not just on adoption and experimentation, but on a more mature, educator-driven approach to improving what our students experience on their learning journeys. This doesn't mean adopting technology for its own sake. Educators are becoming savvy evaluators and users of technology, selecting the best of what's around and shelving what doesn't work. What it does mean, however, is that we'll be continuously testing and tuning technology use to constantly improve how we help our students engage well, learn deeply, and finish strong." — Dr. Mark Milliron, president, National University

13) Change management will be key to successful technology projects.

"For decades, institutions of all types have been investing millions of dollars and extensive human resources into small and large technology initiatives that often fail to meet expectations and deliver results. Most institutions invest in new tools (the shiny new object) that accomplish much of what existing tools do, further complicating the user experience and missing out on opportunities to modernize and improve service to students, faculty, and staff. In other words, institutions consistently fail to reap all the benefits of change-driven, technology initiatives of any size. Over the last several years, Educause has been researching the art and science of change management in higher education and defines digital transformation as shifts in the technology, culture, and workforce of an institution — together, holistically. In 2023, institutional leaders will solidly embrace holistic and strategic organizational change management processes and practices across their major IT projects to address the cultural and workforce issues inherent in technological change. An effective change management approach will become a critically import component of any project plan, just as a budget or timeline. Additionally, change management processes will begin to be woven into the fabric of institutions to continuously maximize the benefit of new IT initiatives or retire outdated solutions in favor of ones that deliver greater benefit and value in the engagement of students." — Joseph Moreau, executive consultant, Higher Digital

14) Digital transformation efforts will be slow because change is still hard.

"Despite many previous predictions from higher education experts that the pandemic would be a catalyst for more institutions to swiftly make large-scale changes to modernize their tech stack, we're seeing the exact opposite nearly three years later. Institutions are taking longer than they did before the pandemic to start and progress on their digital transformation journeys, and we expect that trend to continue and intensify in 2023 and the next few years. Why? Because despite the seismic external disruptions to higher education's operating environment since 2020, the culture of most institutions has not changed in response — many have reverted back to their pre-pandemic 'old normal.' Most traditional institutions still operate the way they did before the pandemic — they are distributed organizations that require consensus in decision-making from a vast array of stakeholders. And while more campus leaders now understand the value and need to modernize their technology infrastructure, making a successful transition to a cloud-based operating environment will remain challenging because it requires massive changes to people and processes to work." — Vicki Tambellini, CEO, Tambellini Group

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