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4 tech trends that are revolutionising higher education

Technology influences every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate and socialise to how we exercise. According to some neuroscientists, technology even influences our brain structure.

This is never more apparent than in education, where technological innovations have encouraged students around the world to absorb and manipulate information in new ways.

We see this shift in elementary school classrooms, where children complete interactive lessons on digital whiteboards and tablets. We see it in high schools with the advent of standardised tests that are digital and adaptable. It’s even permeated our colleges, universities, and workplaces.

Here are four technology trends that are contributing to a higher education revolution and transforming the way we learn:

1. E-Classes and MOOCs

With companies such as Coursera offering online classes from institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, and Yale University, online learning has swiftly grown in popularity.

According to the Instructional Technology Council, enrollment in distance education at community colleges increased by almost 5 per cent from fall 2013 to fall 2014. During the same period, classroom enrollment fell by 3.5 per cent.

While this statistic might be partially explained by the rising cost of a traditional in-person college education, advances in technology are a necessary part of the equation. Without widespread Internet access, the rise of SaaS companies, high-resolution webcams, and file-sharing technology, online education would likely look very different.

In addition to the electronic or hybrid courses that colleges and universities offer, the MOOCs available through websites such as Coursera are especially relevant to our nation’s next generation of technology professionals. With MOOCs, they can expand their skill sets for free in whichever location and at whatever time is most convenient. Consider, for instance, the online programming classes that MIT produces.

2. Nanodegrees and Technical Certifications

Technical certifications (such as those offered by Microsoft) and nanodegrees (available via platforms such as Udacity) are also popular with current college students and working professionals. In fact, certificates are the second most common form of higher education, with more than 1 million completed each year.

Many nanodegrees and technical certifications can be finished in six to 12 months, making them valuable in a rapidly changing industry. Current college students can use them to demonstrate their ability to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical manner, and working professionals can stay current in their industries without having to pursue a second degree. This effectively allows them to add value to their workplaces and résumés at a reduced opportunity cost.

3. Personalised Learning Management Systems

Research indicates that there may be as many as eight different intelligences, but few classrooms are able to accommodate all eight with 20+ students and a single approach. Students with less common learning styles can easily fall behind in a fast-paced educational environment that only partly meets their needs.

Enter the personalised learning management system (LMS). Adobe and Blackboard have created tools that allow educators and employers to administer interactive lessons, training modules, and skills assessments online or via desktop applications. Such programs can often automatically adjust study material based on users’ strengths and weaknesses.

Business leaders and teachers are rapidly embracing LMSs, which are expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 23 per cent by 2019. There can be a great deal of difference between a student who learns rhetorically and one who learns visually, but LMSs aim to deliver quality education to all of the individuals in a given classroom or company.

4. Knowledge Crowdsourcing Databases

Education is increasingly being crowdsourced through databases. These forums enable users to ask questions, which are then publicly available for others to view and answer. A voting system ensures strong answers are separated from poor ones.

An important element of these forums is that they’re still available online even after people are no longer submitting answers. This often allows individuals to answer a query without even posing a question if someone else has encountered the same problem or uncertainty.

Although these websites are sometimes viewed as less authoritative than, say, a professor, they can provide immediate access to up-to-date information — especially in fields that value collaborative problem-solving. For instance, a team member at a startup who recently developed a new app could provide you with an informed perspective on programming languages. For technology professionals and learners, crowdsourced information will become increasingly vital to staying on top of industry trends and burgeoning technologies.

Together, these four technology trends are transforming the way we think about higher education — from reducing costs and decreasing barriers to entry to enhancing the learning experience itself.

Businesses, government entities, and nonprofits can all benefit from leveraging the latest advances in educational technology. Doing so can help them attract top talent, reinvest in current team members, and prepare for rapidly changing industries.

Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors