As another academic year comes to a close, the debate continues as to whether higher education institutes need to rethink the way in which students are taught. The question is; does the widespread reliance on technology by young people to complete everyday functions and communicate with one another mean that more traditional modes of teaching are not resonating effectively with the modern student and could new technologies more in tune with the modern student help drive better outcomes?
University classes are now filled with ‘digital native’ students who have no memory of a time when access to the internet was not readily available, meaning universities have a responsibility to meet the changing needs of these learners. Just as Millennials turn to Netflix for all their viewing needs and Spotify for their listening demands, there is now the need for a learning platform that provides students with all their course material in one central place.
Making the switch to digital
For inspiration, UK universities should turn to the US, as many education institutes across the pond now fully embrace digital and have moved all their course material online. Unfortunately, at present the UK is still lagging behind with many universities still relying on outmoded teaching practices although some pioneering universities like Middlesex University in the UK have embraced digital course materials for all students and now supply them as part of their course.
Technology in higher education, if used in the right way, has the ability to make university processes faster and more efficient, not just in terms of learning success but for the university as a whole. It can provide a more streamlined delivery of information and a more robust approach to analysing learning data. However, it must be said that technology for technology’s sake is ineffective, so to really make it work, universities must align the technology with the right processes and people and develop internal champions.
So how can technology be used to transform the entire learning process in higher education?
Offer personalised learning
One of the key advantages of adopting learning technology in higher education is that it gives students the chance to develop their own unique ways of learning. In more traditional lectures, students would be expected to jot down pages and pages of notes whilst the professor talks. Nowadays, all lecture notes can be uploaded online via university intranets and students can view course texts straight from their iPads and tablet devices using a digital textbook viewer. Key sections can be highlighted, copied and pasted straight from the device, enabling students to more effectively capture key information. Learning technology also allows students to bring together content from multiple sources, such as e-books, textbooks and journals, meaning they are able to take charge of their own learning and move away from using just the recommended texts.
Using this type of resource it is possible to personalise the learning experience as students can work at their own pace through the course material using multiple devices. This makes it possible to study individually or in groups from any location. It can also massively improve the experience for distance learners, as online information is available wherever you are in the world.
Allow educators to carefully track students’ progress
Using learning analytics, it is now possible for educators to monitor an individual student’s progress through the course. This can help to enhance the student experience and by measuring engagement levels it is possible to pinpoint areas of the course with high engagement and areas where levels tend to drop off. This insight can then be used to inform the course structure and can ultimately lead to greater student satisfaction levels, improved retention and better results.
Information regarding an individual’s progress on the course should be shared regularly with the student. It can work by reassuring those that are already on track, and give a gentle nudge to those that aren’t engaging as well as they could be. This helps to prevent issues such as low attendance or failure to turn in work from going unnoticed and leading to costly drop outs. With tuition fees set to rise over the coming years the ability to identify ‘at risk’ students, with the aim of ensuring they get the support they need to keep pace on the course and not get left behind, can reap huge financial benefits for both the University and the student. Reducing the dropout rate is just the first step. As learning analytics can not only help more student’s to graduate and secure fulfilling jobs but can also be worth thousands of pounds to a university.
Of course there is always a risk that students will try and play the system and achieve great engagement levels without actually improving their learning. However, more often than not high engagement levels mean the student is interacting effectively with learning materials and attending more lectures. Learning analytics offer educators a much more precise academic progress indicator and can help to keep students on track with their learning.
Data is also vital for wider university evaluation as it can enable the university to gain insight on the entire student populace and measure against key performance indicators. This can help to raise overall retention levels by clearly illustrating areas of high and low engagement.
According to a recent report from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) a large proportion of education institutes in the UK are now evaluating their fair access programs, with 51 per cent of institutions actively evaluating and 14 per cent reporting they were at an advanced stage. Whilst these are promising results, in the next few years we need to see consistency across the board, with all UK education institutes effectively evaluating the impact of financial support and offering all students online access to learning, whatever their background.
Education technology has the potential to transform the learning experience for teachers and students alike, however in order for it to really work it must to embedded into an education institute’s culture. Universities need to offer a program of study that resonates with digital native students and in order to do so the institution must develop an adequate framework to allow the technology to be properly integrated. To measure the effectiveness of introducing a digital learning platform it is also essential that universities track students’ progress carefully and evaluate the data gathered to help drive results and improve the overall standards of education. Now is the time to embrace technology in higher education and strive to make learning accessible to everyone, whatever your background or wherever you are in the world.