The digital world, along with new information and communication technologies, is radically transforming the world we live in. It is clear that institutions of higher education have to transform themselves in order to adapt to – or even to lead – this change in paradigm. Accordingly, the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition has prepared an exhaustive study on the necessary transformation that universities must undergo in order to adapt to new technologies and become leaders of change. In this brief article I will first examine the most important developments in educational technology and then highlight certain key trends for accelerating the adoption of new technologies in higher education. However, I strongly recommend that you also read the report itself The NMC Horizon Project Reaches Over 160 Countries! .
Today we are living through a period of enormous development and change with regard to technology in higher education.
• In the short term, students are increasingly bringing their own devices (laptops, tablets and smartphones) into the learning environment. It is important to know how to take advantage of this development, given that students are becoming increasingly more familiar with these technologies and they now form part of their lives. We have also seen the rise of the teaching method known as “flipped learning”, where students are encouraged to participate actively in the learning process, developing individual or joint projects over the course of their programme and using the new, open-source materials offered by the Internet. This type of personalized education, adapted to suit the needs of each student, is becoming increasingly common.
• In the medium term, new technological devices are emerging – such as 3D printers, 3D web-modelling applications and robotics – that will help solve problems through design, creation and construction. These are known as “makerspaces”. Moreover, other types of technology known as “wearables” are starting to make their presence felt in the educational environment. One example in particular is the use of virtual reality-enabled glasses and environments, which can provide perfect simulations of real-world situations (for example, an operating room).
• In the long term, the emergence of these new educational technologies will enable each student to receive a personalized, tailor-made education. The “one classroom for all” concept will cease to exist and students will learn at their own rhythm, only partially face-to-face and in bespoke environments, while educators will supervise, monitor and tailor their education accordingly.
But how can we accelerate or implement the use of these new technologies in higher education?
• In the short term: by using new technologies to develop programmes that are only partially taught in-class, whether synchronously or asynchronously. It is also very important to remember that new forms of learning require physical and virtual environments in which to teach and learn using the new educational methodologies and technologies. One such example is “flipped learning”, where students form an active part of their own learning processes. Spaces for educational use must be increasingly designed to facilitate project-based interactions, enabling mobility, flexibility and the use of multiple devices.
• In the medium term: by taking advantage of the existence of universities’ new information systems (what we know as “big data”), in order to understand the profiles of its students. We also need to apply “learning analytics”, which aim to build a new model for teaching by actively involving students and identifying those who are at risk of being left behind. For educators and researchers, “learning analytics” are beginning to provide crucial information regarding their students’ progress and their interaction with online texts, course materials and learning environments. Another very important aspect to keep in mind is the proliferation of online open-source resources that are available to both educators and students. A variety of different platforms are emerging, offering an enormous range of high-quality materials.
• In the long term: by providing leadership that makes it possible to build institutions that are flexible and promote creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. The development of new “top-down” approaches is vital in order to encourage innovation and creativity in education. Another very important aspect to consider is that, thanks to the globalized academic environment, universities are starting to collaborate on an international basis and to work towards goals related to technology, research and the values they share.
Institutions of higher education will have to face many challenges over the coming years, and they will only overcome them through leadership, the willingness and capacity to adapt, creativity and imagination, training the trainers and investing in both technological and physical resources.