In many ways, higher education is much the same today as it has been for generations. Although significantly more of the population attends college than in our grandparents' era, post-secondary institutions have largely maintained the status quo. And, they have been notoriously slow to change – despite the shifting needs and demands of students. But with advances in technology in our world more broadly and in higher education, the status quo has to change.
Amazon's recent announcement that they will launch a free platform for schools and educators to upload, manage and share educational materials is just one example of the significant evolutions taking place within the higher education space. A growing emphasis on and availability of Open Educational Resources (OERs) necessitates that universities shift the lens through which they view digital technology. In order to leverage these new tools to better drive student engagement and student success, educational leaders need to understand that technology alone is not the "silver bullet." We must shift the culture and mindset within higher education, embracing current trends to better serve students.
What shifts, exactly, are needed?
Embracing Personalized Needs. Continued research has shown that the traditional, "one size fits all" approach to learning is not the most effective means for equipping students to thrive after graduation. Moreover, the current generation of students has grown up with information and technology constantly at their finger tips. Recognizing this, Amazon's new platform will include a rating system that allows educators and learners to respond to and sort materials based on usefulness. In higher education, it is critical that leaders find ways to honor the voice and needs of each individual student – leveraging technology as one vehicle to personalize learning.
Shifting the Culture Around Knowledge. Higher education has long been built on a foundation of continual knowledge-building. However, the manifestation of this is often clouded by engrained silos and a sense of "ownership" over research and ideas. Successful adoption of technology requires an adaptive approach rather than solely a technological approach to change. Faculty, students and staff must buy into the vision for and usefulness of these OER platforms. If leaders ignore the need for changes in processes, policies, behaviors and mindsets, they will continue to face barriers in driving technology adoption.
The Human Side of Technology. The expanding role of digital technologies as a component of the learning experience is paving the way toward greater use of data in education – from gleaning deeper insight into student learning processes to informing institutional dashboards that track student progress. However, it is easy to forget about the individuals behind this data. Educational leaders must consider how the use of technology and data impacts the student experience. To best navigate the complexity of the learning ecosystem, it is critical to engage people from across the institution – recognizing that the student experience is colored by the technology itself, as well as interactions with staff and faculty. Bringing diverse voices into the conversation will help bring to light key challenges and barriers that need to be addressed and drive engagement at a broader scale.
The educational sector – an industry that has candidly experienced little change over the past hundred years – in on the cusp of a profound transformation. The next generation of learning is here. It's up to leaders to help drive change in behaviors, culture and mindsets. These shifts will lay the critical foundation to effectively leverage digital tools and technologies to personalize learning experiences, gain deeper knowledge into learning models and propel student success.
Vanessa LoVerme Akhtar, Ed.D., Principle at Kotter International, the leadership and strategy acceleration firm founded by renowned Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter, aids in the development and design of educational programs and supports the development of customized working sessions as part of the Center for Leaders. She can be reached at [email protected].