Colleges and universities never change – but are always changing. Conundrums explain lots of things on our campuses. But EDUCAUSE gets this one right with their latest report, the EDUCAUSE Horizon Report | 2019 Higher Education Edition, where they examine:
- Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption in Higher Education
- Significant Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption in Higher Education
- Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education
- Fail or Scale (With the Right Learning Technologies)
The first contribution of the study is the identification of the drivers of change in high education including “rethinking how institutions work,” how degrees can be modified, how to advance “cultures of innovation,” how to measure learning and even what redesigned learning spaces should look like. This is the wake-up call part of the report, the “key trends accelerating technology adoption in higher education.” The report then turns to the “solvable” challenges that threaten technology adoption, such as uneven “digital fluency” and the growing “demand for digital learning experience and instructional design expertise.” But it also looks at much tougher challenges like faculty and “rethinking the practice of teaching.”
How long? The report predicts “time-to-adoption” of the educational technologies, suggesting that mobile learning and analytics technologies are happening as we speak, that mixed reality and artificial intelligence are at the doorstep, but blockchain and virtual assistants are “four to five years” away. The report ends with a short list of “fail or scale” technologies, including adaptive learning, augmented and mixed reality, and gaming and gamification.
What’s the takeaway?
Universities are facing growing cost and relevancy pressures, but there’s nothing new about these and other pressures. The response to these pressures has been largely gradual, and most visible in the introduction of online learning of all kinds and the realignment of faculty across tenured and non-tenured faculty lines. But the greatest challenge, according to the report, is the need for higher education to customize its offerings, such as degrees, delivery and pedagogy – and the faculty, expertise and digital access necessary to customize all of the above. Of special importance is how universities (and faculty) must rethink the very practice of teaching.
And here’s where it gets interesting. There are standard and emerging delivery options – like online/offline/blended delivery – and there are technology-driven delivery options – like immersive technology experiences with emerging technologies like virtual, augmented and mixed reality. There are student-centric approaches and fully customized approaches based on how well students learn. There are also experiential-based approaches where simulations and “games” are used to improve student problem-solving skills and competencies.
Experiential-immersive education represents a huge change in the way a few universities are delivering content. While they emphasize different learning approaches, they are complementary, as described by Mohsin Memon: “Experiential learning isn’t nearly as meticulously designed as immersive learning, since it’s designed on a linear environment where specific actions have right or wrong outputs. Immersive learning, on the other hand, isn’t concerned with right and wrong; its goal is to give more holistic and life-like experiences that take into account the multitude of gray areas we deal with on a daily basis … experiential learning attempts to give people an opportunity to complete tasks as they would in real life and draw learning from them.” A simple way to understand the relationship is to use immersive reality technology to enhance experiential simulations of real problems, as described by Drescher, Hannans and Leafstedt, among others.
The EDUCAUSE report shines a very bright light on the role that technology plays in the transformation of education, learning and problem-solving. As always, impact will be measured by commitment and funding. Some universities will move faster than others to pilot the new approaches but all of them will eventually deploy new technology-enabled learning strategies. They will have no choice, especially as the new approaches prove measurably effective and their competitors begin to follow the EDUCAUSE recommendations to enhance the learning experiences of their students.