How higher education is innovating instruction (and why it needs to continue to do so)

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Digital learning and technology has a short and turbulent history as creating cultural, social, generational, and socio-economic divides. The swiftness of change in society due to technological advances has disrupted just about everything we do, but in education, the disruption is perhaps the most important to consider.

There is a discontinuity in how education is evolving compared to the realities of career and society. Higher education attempts to be responsive to these changes, but the course corrections are often slow and/or don’t align well with the actual trajectory of the modern world. The solution is not clear-cut, but there are many ways higher education is trying to keep pace.

Here are 5 trends that are helping higher education to align better with the actual needs of students:

  1. Online and hybrid classes have become a very popular part of the landscape at many institutions of higher education. The mix of flexibility and the infusion of technology such as video-conferencing software, cloud-based office suites such as Google’s Gsuite or Microsoft’s 365, and the use of learning management systems such as Blackboard or Desire to Learn. While the technology serves the purpose of adding flexibility and leveraging resources, the experiences students gain from working and learning in this environment align closely with the modern workplace.
  2. Digital Delivery of learning materials is the obvious evolution for higher education, and one that has been painfully slow. While the ability to deliver what we used to think of as a “textbook” as a digital resource has long been possible, many programs still rely heavily on student and faculty use of printed media. It doesn’t have to be this way, and some schools are beginning to take a hard look at the way materials are used in courses. In many cases, the switch can be easy. For instance, Pearson Education is one of the leaders in providing access to digitally delivered learning materials. The digital catalogs available for students and faculty are massive and growing every day. At this point, any move toward digital delivery is a positive one. This transition would modernize the higher ed experience and probably save students some money.
  3. Internships and outside experiential learning built into degree programs have continued to be a popular route due to the development of personal and social skills, but internships have a secondary yet powerful consequence: they also help instructors and program chairpeople stay current. There is a lot to be said for programs where internships, programming, and instruction are woven together in ways that a more traditional, sanitized, classroom experience cannot replicate.
  4. Student voice and choice is changing the landscape of post-secondary education. There is a great power in programs willing to allow for a variety of student voice and choice in the learning experience, not just for the capstone, but throughout the learning journey of the students. This seems to be far more accepted in vocational and advanced degree programs, and I’d like to see it sweep through the undergraduate experience as well.
  5. Embracing the learner, not the system, is really the key to the survival of many post-secondary programs. While the integration of learning technology, internships, diverse media delivery and student voice make for an increasingly intimate and individualized experience, it can’t survive in a vacuum. The evolution to embrace learner needs, especially when those needs run afoul of traditional practice, needs to be valued. Whether differentiated by time, place, pace, or method of delivery, individualized instruction can happen now in ways that would have been impossible or impractical even ten years ago. Not only can professors use their LMS platforms to deliver multimedia-rich learning options, but there are many options for curricula and review material already assembled and ready to use, such as Pearson’s Revel and MyLab/Mastering products.

Disruption is the constant today, and post-secondary programs will need to continue to find ways to attend to the gap between what they deliver and what students actually need. They need to be nimble and responsive to the world they are preparing students for.

While the familiar may have a certain nostalgia to some professors and instructors, these disruptions represent the best potential for future growth of programs, institutions, and the individuals. Unlike any other time in history, higher education faces a shift from tried and true to a constant reinvention to meet the fluid demands of both the working world and an ever-changing student body.

This article was originally published on Dr. VonBank’s LinkedIn Pulse page and has been reposted here with permission.