The EvoLLLution | Four Trends Changing the Face of Higher Education
The trends that have shaped the work of non-traditional divisions of higher education institutions over the past decade are now becoming prominent across the rest of campus.

Besides the changes in technology and student expectations in traditional college settings something else has changed: the demographics of the typical student. Recent reports, including one released this year by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), shows that a quarter of college students today (4.8 million students) are raising dependent children. Further, more than half of those nearly 5 million students are single parents.

This demographic shift has tremendous implications for higher education and for those leading non-traditional education units at colleges and universities nationwide. Within this space, certain trends have emerged that reflect this new student profile. I have identified four trends (organized into four categories) that are familiar to those in non-traditional education settings and are starting to gain prominence across the rest of campus as well. To this end, I think these four trends are here to stay.

1. How We Educate: The Flipped Classroom

Most of the buzz around the flipped classroom has been in the K-12 sector, but it is an idea that has clear implications for adult learners

The idea of the “flipped” classroom is that core content can be reviewed and digested outside of the classroom. Class time (or Webinar time, or conference session time) can then be used for deeper discussion, collaborative learning, etc.

We also know that most adult learners, especially those who are returning to school after a long absence or for the first time, can be overwhelmed and that reduces the likelihood of success.

Adult learners have considerable experience in situational learning and must see the correlation between assignments and outcomes very clearly. They have an intolerance for busy work and seemingly irrelevant content. Designing a course for adult learners using the flipped model forces us to reduce unnecessary assignments and has the potential to improve the likelihood of success.

2. How We Develop Courses: Neuroscience

Over the past couple of decades we’ve learned more about how the human brain works than we ever knew before. Naturally, this knowledge is impacting how we think about teaching and learning. While there is plenty of misinformation, misinterpretation and misapplication of neuroscience principles at this point, it seems inevitable that education providers will have to be fully up to speed on how the human mind works and what that means for delivering great learning experiences.

In her article (published in EvoLLLution) titled “How Can Neuroscience Inform Online Adult Education?” Jane Terpstra offers the following pedagogical strategies:

  • Make use of the inquiry model, supporting learners in conducting their own research and synthesizing their discoveries.
  • Include video and/or audio clips from a variety of experts addressing relevant issues. Or include activities in which learners conduct interviews with experts and share insights learned.
  • Present learners with complex problems via simulations, case studies, role playing, or game-based challenges.
  • Invite learners to write, audio record, or video record their responses to assigned activities.
  • Allow learners to select topics of interest within the scope of the course and to complete assignments based on actual projects related to work or life.
  • Reduce anxiety and stress by including some flexibility in the coursework deadlines.
  • Include graphics, video, or animation to illustrate processes or sequences of events.
  • Provide visuals displaying examples and non-examples of concepts to be learned.
  • Ask questions that require careful observation.
  • Provide learners with opportunities to reflect on their learning and explain how it integrates with their work and/or lives.
  • Offer learners access to online communities of practice to extend learning opportunities beyond the course.

3. How We Market: Content Marketing

A stalwart in the business space—and an approach that’s gaining recognition and popularity for corporations worldwide—content marketing is making inroads in higher education. Even more than open education (MOOCs), the storytelling and “freemium” approach to marketing has really shaken up the market for learning and knowledge.

The whole idea behind content marketing is that you give away valuable content in order to attract prospects to paid offerings. Providing your potential students with information they can apply to their jobs immediately while giving them a feel for your course content and delivery will provide clear differentiators for your institution.

With content marketing, it becomes clear that the differentiating factors for colleges and universities have changed. When the Open Educational Resource movement began, higher education leaders were appalled at the idea of giving course content away. Today, it’s becoming clear that the content itself may not be the differentiator. Instead, the differentiator is the learning experience—the environment created by the institution (virtually or on-campus) to allow students to truly understand the material and apply it to grow.

4. How We Measure: Competency Recognition

Lifelong learning is the norm. Adults no longer view their education as complete when they get their degree. Businesses know that in order to continue to innovate at the speed required in today’s market they need a workforce of continuous learners that have achieved certain competencies.

The Department of Education has this to say about competency-based education: “Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.”

Over the next few years we can expect to see standardized definitions of competencies that will be recognized and understood by businesses. They will most likely be represented on resumes as badges (a future trend).

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