For most countries, this year marked three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began to seriously disrupt education. In that time, higher education has adapted and learnt from its experience. Technological advances have continued apace, stimulating debate over the place artificial intelligence (AI) could occupy in education. Meanwhile, the opportunity exists to harness insights from the data that online learning tools provide, if this is approached in the right way.
As we bid goodbye to 2023 and take what it had to offer with us, we take a moment to consider here the landscape of higher education in 2024.
Increasing sophistication in blended and online
Higher education has experienced a new post-pandemic era of hybrid teaching and learning. At the start of 2023, the BBC reported almost a third of UK university courses were still combining face-to-face with online in 2022–23. The extent of the pivot to online is clear when you consider that only 4.1% of courses were hybrid in 2018–19.
Hybrid or blended courses can provide a high level of personalisation and flexibility when they are executed effectively. McKinsey’s survey of 7,000 students across 17 countries found that 65% of respondents want aspects of their learning experience to remain virtual and that students say they “appreciate the flexibility and convenience.”
The key to success is effectively pairing in-person classroom teaching with online components. There needs to be a clear connection between online and offline events, supported through a logical learning pathway.
That way, universities can provide a single, cohesive experience, one in which online and in-person learning blends seamlessly. When students absorb information outside class and come ready to discuss it with their peers and tutors, the experience is a richer one. It delivers more benefits than if online is treated as separate from what takes place in the classroom.
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“One size fits all” tends not to be the most successful teaching and learning strategy. Course customisation and personalisation enabled through the learning platform supports students in learning at their own pace. Social interaction is important in all forms of learning. Online can supplement the in-person experience through chat functions and video conferencing.
Growing adoption of artificial intelligence
There was a great deal of talk this past year about AI and how it may—and may not—be used in education. ChatGPT raised multiple questions and prompted higher education institutions to consider how they would monitor its use and also incorporate it into their courses.
AI in education has already transformed the way students learn by making courses more accessible and personalising learning paths. Looking ahead, AI could also support lecturers with lesson planning and student insights.
It could also make it possible to access and analyse vast amounts of data to help give educators more insight into students’ progress. This could help them identify where students might be struggling and make necessary adjustments to bring them back on track.
Also, AI could be used to create elements from assessments or lesson plans to thought starters or texts that students can analyse as part of critical thinking exercises. It can also support accessible online content creation through, for example, automatically generated closed captions in multiple languages for videos.
Having said all that, concerns around the use of AI-powered solutions are to be expected. Before implementing AI, institutions should consider the risks and responsibilities of collecting and using personal data. Earlier this year, UK universities came together to draw up guiding principles on generative AI to help shape its implementation.
Rising use of data-driven insights
The rise in online and hybrid courses has highlighted the role that data can play in tutoring and learning. Digital interactions generate crucial data that can be drawn upon to further learner progress. Online gives educators visibility into how students learn and how they are performing, particularly when it comes to identifying specific areas for development.
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An online learning platform can support lecturers by helping identify trends in student learning. Learning analytics can help educators identify where students may have learning gaps and need support. Educators integrating data into their teaching approach could therefore instigate interventions earlier than would otherwise be possible to bring students back on track and improve learning outcomes.
Long-term data on entire student cohorts can be used to inform course planning and content. This can help higher education institutions continually improve courses, both in how courses function and how they engage students.
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Higher education is navigating a landscape in 2024 where technology could play a significant supporting role. Blended, online and flexible learning opportunities that personalise the experience for learners could help educators deliver successful student outcomes. To find out how D2L supports higher education teaching and learning, take a look at our learning management system for colleges and universities.
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