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Paradigm shift in learning : Emerging Trends in Higher Education

Covid is accelerating a digital-anchored pedagogy that will dominate the hybrid models of the future

Not since World War II have so many countries seen educational institutions closed due to a lockdown — around the same time and for the same reasons. According to a Unesco Covid Monitoring website, approximately 1.72 billion learners have been affected due to closure of educational institutions. In a matter of weeks, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how students are being educated around the world.

The inaccessibility to physical classrooms is accelerating new educational pedagogy, with digital at its heart. Needless to say, the centuries-old, chalk-talk teaching model is being transformed into one that is driven by technology and focuses on skill development. This is resulting in new trends coming up in a post-Covid-19 world that will positively impact the higher education domain.

Why higher education will change

An increasing number of students expect their education to pay off in the future. The boom in automation is giving rise to newer job roles, while making many existing jobs redundant. This is changing some of the competencies that companies look at while hiring. With knowledge acquisition and upskilling becoming anchors of the changing economic times, the student community is starting to include a higher number of post-traditional learners.

Working professionals are contributing to this increase in numbers of post-traditional learners, as they enrol for part-time learning programmes or courses to broaden their current skillsets. Educational institutions have to focus on better understanding the experiences of this diverse set of learners and how to best serve their evolving needs. Thus, making obsolete the one-size-fits-all model of teaching. There is a growing need to customise the student experience and focus on individual learning needs. This trend is bound to increase manifold in the future as academic structures are further transformed by emerging technologies.

Emerging trends

The shifting aspirations of students, coupled with the need for a job-ready workforce, could have a lasting impact on the trajectory of learning innovation and digitisation. Below, we follow five trends that hint at future transformations.

1. Shift towards online learning

Given the current circumstances, obviously there is thrust for online learning for sure, and many academicians are struggling with the mode of teaching. Mainstream institutions are moving online to ensure learning continuity in the lockdown scenario. But this trend is likely to continue post-Covid-19 too. Going forward, there may be a mix of face-to-face and online learning, once the colleges resume with social distancing norms.

In fact, a KPMG report projects the growth of the online education market in India to reach $1.96 billion in 2021. E-learning features such as virtual classes, animation-based lessons, and snackable content can transform how students learn. Several education technology (edtech) firms offer a wide array of options to facilitate e-learning. Platforms such as Active App and Quikik offer interactive tools for a seamless learning experience.

2. Personalised learning

Personalised learning enables students to learn at their pace and at a time of their choice. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) can further augment this. It is expected that by 2024, upwards of 47 per cent of learning management tools will be enabled by AI capabilities. With an AI-enabled personalised learning experience, every student would benefit from a unique educational approach that is tailor-made for his or her individual needs.

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Apps such as MyLab and Mastering offer an exhaustive collection of online homework, tutorial, and assessment products. They create learning experiences that are truly personalised and continuously adaptive. This directly increases students’ motivation in continuing their education and reduces the rates of students dropping out before completing a course. Educators are provided with data that enable them to teach more effectively.

3. Demand for short-term, skill-based courses

The changing socio-economic scenario is putting many at risk of losing their jobs. This is further bolstered by the ever-changing technological landscape. To remain agile and adaptable for the workplace, students need to continuously upskill themselves with industry-ready courses. Learning has to revolve around imparting the right skills that help one stay resourceful in the long term.

4. Infrastructure development

With the shift from traditional face-to-face (F2F) teaching to online platforms, there will also be a need for institutions to invest significantly in infrastructure development. Even if one shifts to an online learning model, Assessments still cannot go online. Other than that, while concepts can be taught online, statistical and mathematical problems cannot be communicated in the same way; case studies are difficult to manage online as they require interactive learning, and the inability to assess learning outcomes is a challenge.

These are some of the challenges we need to find solutions for. Tchnology enablement with supporting infrastructure will ensure the seamless delivery of online classes to students across the country. Investing in permanent technology solutions, such as remote collaboration tools, high-speed networks, etc. will facilitate teachers and students to continue learning even when away from campus.

5. Public-private partnerships

In just a few weeks, we have seen learning coalitions taking shape between the public and private stakeholders. AICTE’s recently launched ELIS portal boasts of content sourced from 18 leading edtech companies. Educational innovation is receiving attention beyond the typical government-funded social projects.

Public-private partnerships can promote seamless education facilities. It is hoped the government will provide tax benefits in the form of exemptions for companies working in the education sphere. Likewise, private stakeholders can augment education delivery through online learning in regions that do not yet have a digital footprint.

Offline or conventional education models will not become obsolete post-Covid-19. However, they will be strongly supplemented by digital learning. This will digitally revamp the campus experience for the students. While concepts can be learned effectively online, students can spend on-campus time more productively by applying concepts to solve problems. Institutions and teachers will blend the two judiciously, according to the context and the content.

This pandemic is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of the skills students need for the jobs of tomorrow. While universities across the world digitalise themselves, it will be interesting to see how these trends revolutionise the higher education domain.

© 2020 Abhishek Sangwan

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