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Higher Education Trends to Look Out For in 2023 

  • 9 Min Read

Check out the four trends in this blog post that could be making their presence known in the upcoming year.


Y2K. Ancient Maya prophecy. Groundhog Day. Sometimes people make predictions with the best of intentions, but they don’t always pan out. 

Nobody can predict the future, but we can make some educated guesses based on data and recurring themes. That’s what this blog post is all about: higher education trends to look out for in 2023. 

The suggestions made below may take hold in the world of higher ed in 2023, make minor ripples or miss the mark. Based on data, insights from educators and professionals working at institutions, and a little bit of intuition, here are four trends in higher ed to keep an eye on in 2023. 

1. Taking a Human-Centered Approach in a Digital Learning Environment 

Instead of telling you something you already know—that blended learning is here to stay and we all need to find ways to have in-person and online learning play nicely in the schoolyard—we think it’s going to be more important to focus on the quality of digital learning. 

This includes bringing equity and inclusion to the forefront of digital learning environments and creating a sense of belonging for academics. 

During our 2022 webinar The Student Experience: Reimagined, there was a lot of discussion around the digital divide. The pandemic swiftly shifted the world of higher education into a digital space whether we liked it or not, and it wasn’t always pleasant. This shift placed a spotlight on the fact that basic needs, like broadband internet, aren’t accessible to all students—particularly those in lower-income neighborhoods. 

During the webinar, Kim Scalzo, executive director of The State University of New York, spoke about how the digital divide pushed her institution to focus on supporting the whole student in the digital educational landscape. 

Episode five of D2L’s Teach & Learn podcast looked at the bigger issues impacting higher ed in 2022. Host Dr. Cristi Ford, vice president of academic affairs at D2L, spoke with Dr. Joshua Kim, director of online programs and strategy at Dartmouth College and a senior fellow at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University, and Dr. Edward Maloney, professor and founding director of the Program in Learning, Design, and Technology and the executive director of CNDLS. 

While both guests spoke about inclusivity in higher ed in general, their points can easily be applied to a digital learning environment. 

“One of the things I think that then relates between … that sense of disconnect and that sense of the challenges that we saw in the pandemic and the social challenges that we continue to face and we faced throughout our history, is this need to really invest in a greater attention to inclusive pedagogy,” said Dr. Maloney. “We’re seeing institutions take on initiatives around inclusive pedagogy and try to create models that develop an environment that supports all of our students in a way where they can feel that sense of belonging and do their best work.” 

Dr. Kim highlighted another view of considering inclusivity in higher education in the future. 

“Cristi, I think about that 10-year arc that you talk about. During that 10 years, we’ve become less equal as a society, more stratified, wealth has become more concentrated. We’ve become politically polarized,” said Dr. Kim. 

“Public institutions continue to be defunded by the states. Community colleges, public state schools continue to not get nearly the resources [needed], and wealthy schools keep getting wealthier. And I think we have to ask right now, is our higher education system, are we reflecting the inequalities out there or are we driving those structural inequalities? And if [we’re] part of the problem, we’ve got to ask why and how we can become part of a solution. And Eddie and I, we work in the field of learning and we work in technology and we work in online learning. I think we have to engage our work with those broader questions.” 

2. Analyzing and Acting On Data 

It’s one thing to track data and a whole other ballgame to effectively analyze and act on it. And we’re not talking about only interpreting data. Narrowing the scope on which data will be most beneficial will also play a role in 2023.  

A report by Educause on higher education trends to watch for in 2023 found “more call for data-informed decision-making and reporting” in a tie for the third-ranked IT trend among those surveyed. 

The survey also found that many institutions are making moves to hire new positions or teams or redesigning existing positions to focus on data analytics.  

Some of the areas with a focus on data cited in the report included recruitment, retention and student success.  

As we continue to hear about drops in enrollment, it makes sense to do something about it. Using data is one way to help you identify where you’re missing the mark and start devising a plan to right the ship. 

Another area in which data will be impactful in 2023 is faculty well-being. Over the past two years faculty burnout has been on the rise. Instead of continuing to acknowledge this pain point, it’s time to start making decisions based on the collected data on how to better support educators whose flame for teaching may be fading.

In our Teaching Today: Reimagined webinar that took place in October, Dr. Angela Gunder, chief academic officer at the Online Learning Consortium, discussed how data has been used in her workplace to better understand faculty needs. 

3. The Art of Storytelling 

Competition can be tough when it comes to marketing your institution as the top choice for applicants. This is especially true when we consider the changing nature of the traditional higher ed student. Not only is it important to understand what your target student demographic is interested in (remember the point about data?), but also how to best illustrate how your institution will fulfill their dreams, wants and desires. 

To better attract the ideal student—and to help boost enrollment—more institutions will start crafting a unique story that showcases a holistic value proposition and what sets their campus and courses apart. 

Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of a few institutions in the U.S. that’s embracing virtual reality in some of their courses. 

Dr. Muhsinah Morris, Metaversity director and assistant professor at Morehouse, describes how virtual reality helps engage students, creating a storyline about this unique aspect of Morehouse that can help attract future students. 

Having current students and alumni be a voice in your story will also better connect with incoming students who want to emulate existing success. 

The University of North Dakota (UND) uses its students’ voice on their website to elevate their institution as one that produces leaders. This storyline is woven throughout the site with eye-catching photos and quotes that make the reader want to turn the page and learn more.  

By featuring student success stories on their site, UND builds a memorable plot and powerful protagonists for its story. 

Another fantastic example of storytelling is done by Imperial College London in the United Kingdom. Like UND, the school identifies success stories and research fueled by its students and faculty, and features them on its site. 

Each story is given special care not only through its carefully crafted content, but also with memorable and interactive graphics that make the stories hard to forget. 

4. Upskilling and Continuing Education 

Another trend that’s been picking up steam heading into 2023 is colleges investing more in upskilling and continuing education. 

Not to sound like a broken record, but the traditional college student—while still in existence—is being joined by other student types. There are more mature students turning to institutions for upskilling. Many new high school grads are also looking for different educational pathways—shorter paths that can guarantee work, or routes that include getting an education while gaining work experience at the same time. 

Institutions continuing to put more emphasis on creating opportunities for students of all ages to upgrade their skills and continue their education is only one part of the puzzle. 

The other piece will be institutions forming partnerships with businesses to create more complex degree offerings that appeal to a wider range of applicants. 

In Canada, York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is offering a new Bachelor of Applied Science in Digital Technologies program. It’s run in partnership with several businesses that allow students to earn their degree in tandem with working full time. Students take their knowledge to the next level by being able to apply it almost immediately in a real-world experience. 

The University of Miami recently announced a partnership with Amazon Career Choice. In this case, Amazon employees can seek upskilling courses or micro credentials at the University of Miami, and Amazon will cover some to all of the related costs. 

While these partnerships can provide many benefits to both institutions and students, Dr. Maloney did heed some words of wisdom on the topic. 

“Where I disagree and where I have been not only skeptical but actively resistant is the place in which those partnerships replicate something that should be happening at the institution, building a capacity that the institution should be building and creating itself,” said Dr. Maloney during D2L’s Teach & Learn podcast. “The most obvious example is when the design and delivery of courses happens with a partnership rather than at the institution, we tend to then basically offshore a core capacity of an institution. A capacity that, quite frankly, a lot of institutions haven’t recognized is a core capacity. 

“That’s the problem from the beginning. They don’t realize: ‘Wait a minute, we should know how to do this because this is what we are actually being asked to do by our students. If we don’t know how to do this and we’re giving this to someone else, what is our role? Are we just the infrastructure, are we just the summer camp for students to come to? Are we just housing or are we actually here to do something, which is the teaching and learning mission?’ We need to continue to maintain that capacity.” 

Higher Ed – A Year in Review with Dr. Joshua Kim and Dr. Edward Maloney

In today’s episode, we take a look back at the bigger issues that affected the higher education landscape over the last year with Dr. Joshua Kim and Dr. Edward Maloney.

Listen Now

Remaining Flexible in 2023 

The suggested trends above are just that—recommendations of what could possibly come into clearer focus in 2023. 

Based on consistent research and data, along with thoughts from leaders in the higher ed landscape, taking a human-centered approach to digital learning, data and analysis, storytelling, and upskilling are four trends you may continue to hear more about in the coming year. 

As always, we encourage you to stay vigilant and continue to keep a pulse on emerging higher education trends and updates in 2023 to inform how your institution can reach its goals in the new year. 

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Table of Contents

  1. 1. Taking a Human-Centered Approach in a Digital Learning Environment 
  2. 2. Analyzing and Acting On Data 
  3. 3. The Art of Storytelling 
  4. 4. Upskilling and Continuing Education 
  5. Remaining Flexible in 2023