Higher education is in the midst of an enormous and rapid transformation. Education technology is playing an increasingly important role in this process, through innovations such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online degrees tailored to the needs of specific industries. Traditional universities are facing academic as well as financial challenges as they seek to respond to these disruptive digital phenomena.
The number of universities that have emerged as global academic brands over the past few decades by making massive investments in research excellence, thereby also raising the profile of their graduate education programs, is relatively small. Universities that lack the financial means to make such investments will be most profoundly affected by the significant technological changes that are currently taking place.
“Universities must embrace both elements of innovation – new technologies as well as advances in teaching and learning in a physical classroom – and understand that neither, in isolation, will suffice.”
The systematic introduction of flipped classrooms, for instance, is likely to be an important element in an effective response to the challenges confronting universities. Flipped classrooms reverse the traditional approach to learning by delivering instructional content online and outside the classroom, freeing up in-class time for discussion and exploring the material in greater depth.
While such a digitalized approach makes it possible to improve and standardize the quality of instructional content at relatively low cost, a far more important factor in the transformation of education is the complementary human element in the blended learning mix.
An opportunity for less wealthy universities to boost their brand
As universities seek to educate true citizens of the world and equip them with the 21st-century skills needed to promote sustainable global development, top-quality, tailored digital content and tools alone will not differentiate one university from another. What is needed is an optimal blend of such content with intercultural, interdisciplinary, research-driven and employability-oriented instruction and methods for use in a physical classroom.
Contrary to popular belief, education technology is not the main driver of innovation in higher education. It is, however, an essential precondition. To expand the frontiers of the education sector, universities must embrace both elements of innovation – new technologies as well as advances in teaching and learning in a physical classroom – and understand that neither, in isolation, will suffice.
“We might enter an era in which a global academic brand can be based on innovation and excellence in education.”
And if market mechanisms can be leveraged so that competition and differentiation among universities point to the most effective ways of blending the digital with the human, we can expect to see positive change in the years ahead. Indeed, we might enter an era in which a global academic brand can be based on innovation and excellence in education, and not just on costly world-class research.
We are living in a time of major development challenges and an ongoing learning crisis in many regions of the world. All universities have an important role to play in this context, and should embark on the exciting journey of reinventing themselves – with determination and optimism.