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Higher Education: what challenges and answers can ICT provide?

Higher education is changing. With distance learning’s acceleration, the creation of connected campuses, the rise of players such as OPMs (Online Program Management) to develop online courses for institutions… higher education is facing many changes and is being forced to evolve rapidly. Private schools must reconcile the need for profitability with the need to improve their teaching methods, while juggling with a very independent faculty. Here is an overview of higher education’s challenges, whether or not related to new technologies, and the solutions they can provide to institutions.

Higher Education

1 – Before learning: students with very different profiles

Higher education institutions recruit students with very different profiles. Some arrive directly after high school, while others have already followed a university course or a preparatory class. As each student has received a specific education, it is necessary for the institutions to standardize the admitted students’ level even before the learning process begins. For each teaching unit, a set of prerequisites must be mastered by all so that students can take maximum advantage of the provided education. With the changes caused by covid-19, universities are even anticipating a generalized refresher course for the start of the 2021 school year (source).

2 – During learning: innovating and engaging students

Schools and universities are constantly looking for ways to innovate in order to improve and enrich their teaching, and better train the students who join their ranks. This innovation involves many levers and, among them, the use of digital tools. Distance learning and blended learning have developed massively in recent years. They also represent an opportunity since they allow an increased number of students without expanding the physical campus. During the covid-19 crisis, 100% of French students experimented with distance learning, with varying degrees of success.

Online courses struggle to engage students. MOOCs still have a dropout rate of over 90%. Based on a global and massive approach, these courses are too often judged as unsuitable by learners. More than 50% of students in engineering and business schools said they were dissatisfied with educational continuity during the covid-19 crisis (source). This shows how much online courses need to be rethought and the content adapted to this medium and its particularities.
The distribution of the same digital content to all students, in a top-down manner and without possible interactions, has shown its limits. The virtual classroom is not a simple extension of the classroom. It requires teachers to rethink their way of teaching in order to adapt to the constraints of this medium and to be properly equipped for this. We are in an era of individualized learning paths, gamification, storytelling, flipped classrooms*, improved memorization thanks to consolidation techniques… all concepts that digital tools allow us to put into practice in a massive way to respond to the problem of student commitment to partially or completely distance learning.

3 – Many tools for -sometimes- a disappointing experience

Schools and universities are now equipped with digital management tools for every aspect of life within the institution:

  • CRM (Customer Success Management) tools that manage the relationship with students before they are recruited by school and once they have graduated and become part of the alumni community.
  • LMS (Learning Management System) to manage students’ distance learning, give them access to educational resources and a learning community
  • ERP systems to manage the institutions’ administration
  • And many other tools ranging from the management of school buildings to the student assessment at the end of the course, or the creation of personalized schedules.

All of these tools remain very independent and communicate little or not at all with each other. Moreover, they are not necessarily adapted to the uses of their main users: for example, few of them offer a good experience on mobile, even though this is the medium most used on a daily basis by school members. This makes it difficult for administrations to provide a seamless experience for their students and educational teams.

In addition, the tools mentioned above generate a large volume of data which, when aggregated, can be used to improve the provided education’s impact and to better manage the institution’s financial and administrative management. This implementation requires the use of interoperability standards such as xAPI, a good architecture and the use of LRS (Learning Record Store) which will aggregate and store the data.

To conclude – Lifelong learning: a clear opportunity

According to a study led by the French think tank “Institut Montaigne”, higher education institutions account for only 3% of the lifelong learning market in France, it represents less than 400 million euros per year: their development potential is therefore very significant when you consider that market size is worth 13 billion euros. Schools and universities have major assets to offer companies: technical and pedagogical expertise, a diploma that is recognized in France and internationally, and research activities that place them at the forefront of their field… But formats offered by the lifelong learning program must be adapted to employees’ needs and business leaders, with, for example, evening classes, intensive courses, or a tailored offer. Schools must also be able to promote their lifelong learning catalog with a marketing force equal to their competitors’. This requires pedagogical innovation and its visibility in the corporate world.