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21 December 2015

Education: a New Learning Curve

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A large number of today’s students of Higher Education are not traditional students, but are universities keeping up with the changes in student profiles and adapting to this progress? Matthew Small, International Director at Blackboard, looks to the future and reveals how focusing on students is changing education.


A new student profile

The world’s economy has had a significant impact on the type of individual who accesses higher education. Students with previous academic training who want to recycle in order to improve their employment options, foreign students in search of the perfect course no matter where in the world it is taught, students who have not graduated but need full-time jobs to finance their studies. Each of these non-traditional students represent a large number of the individuals currently enrolled in higher education. Given the strong demand for flexible courses, information accessibility and international recognition of achievements, universities are under extreme pressure to adapt in order to be competitive.

In the last decade, Spain has seen an increase in the university students over the age of 30, the percentage of students over 40 alone has increased by 83.3% in the last decade.

Recruiting and retaining students when the competition is offering an increasingly wide variety of learning options, means that students have their own say as to what they want to study, when they are available to study and where they want to be when they study. The number of students who attend university classrooms and hand in their work physically is smaller and smaller.

Technology and university

Blackboard affirms that this change is visible given the growing demand for learning in collaboration and on online settings. A thorough research of the new educational setting, including spending time with students both in the classroom and during their free time, revealed that students are now more proactive as regards to personalizing their studies and focus on their scores as a guideline for their ideal career.

Students have more skills than ever before and they choose and expect to have a choice. Technology is in their nature as students and they rely on it to handle their lives. They do not think that studying should be different. If they can use a hand-held device in every other aspect of their lives, they expect to do so in their education as well.

Some universities have hardly made a superficial effort to update the way they offer their courses. They use technology like a bulletin board, providing learning without taking into account that it is the students themselves who want to lead the activity. Many of these universities work within a traditional educational program and support systems that were designed for traditional students and traditional learning models. These types of students not constitute a minority, making change inevitable.

If universities ignore non-traditional students, they may risk facing more than frustration by students. Without the flexibility required to participate in flipped classroom activities, sending work online or collaborating with students and professors via the Internet, some students are being left behind in their attempt to include their education in their day-to-day lives.

An important requirement for education that is student-centered derives from the increase in international students and the tendency to mix and combine courses from various universities and sometimes even different countries, to obtain the exact education that the student wants.

Some universities are changing the way they develop their courses, changing the way they offer classes and changing their relationship with their students. Much of this is done via technology. The world now has its first paper-free university, Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates, and it is only a matter of time until others follow. However, technology is not the driving force, it simply allows the university to follow the student. Whether the student is a 51-year-old professional who needs new certificates to continue being relevant in his work, a 44-year-old female student who cannot access proper work training, a 19-year-old who wants to expand his studies to adapt his profile to an international work experience. The traditional student is becoming a rarity and the universities that recognize this fact and satisfy the needs of the new generation of students will be successful in changing education for the better.

Matthew Small

International Director of Blackboard.


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