Dec 06 2021

5 Emerging Technology Trends Higher Ed Is Watching for in 2022

From adaptive learning to smarter AI-powered tutors, here’s a look at the ed tech trends that will be shaping the new year.

As higher education heads into year two of the pandemic, there will inevitably be some worn-out faculty, staff and students who feel a sentimental longing for the past. Some feel a desire to snap back to pre-pandemic life on campus, while others are excited to rethink the learning and teaching experience with emerging technologies.

The collision of these two groups of users will shape the services that agile IT departments must provide in the new year. But as much as some may want to walk away from videoconferencing, this appears unlikely as the Omicron variant arrives in the U.S.

Regardless of whether the U.S. achieves herd immunity in 2022, Georgetown University professor Bryan Alexander says that hybrid and HyFlex offerings will likely serve as a baseline for many higher education operations in the coming months.

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“I don’t mean every single class and every single meeting will be HyFlex,” he says. “But it’s something we’ll be doing more and more of moving forward.”

Alexander is the author of Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education, a book that examines future scenarios based on current economic, demographic, political, international and policy forces at play, and he believes that current trends suggest the new year will bring more engaging student experiences. “There are faculty, staff and students who have found these new technologies are actually pretty useful. They’ve had to rethink: How do you connect with a student? And that rethinking has helped them connect better in face-to-face classrooms,” he says.

Here’s a look at the emerging technologies that higher education institutions are experimenting with to improve learning experiences, decrease faculty workload and increase enrollment in 2022.

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1. Increased Adoption of Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning

Informed by data gathered from learning analytics, adaptive learning is an education platform that modifies class materials according to an individual learner’s needs.

As enrollment and retention rates decline, more higher education leaders are working toward implementing adaptive technologies to attract and improve the success of non-traditional students.

At Arizona State University, the institution is preparing to launch Orchard, an adaptive learning platform that will make it easier for students to engage with other disciplines, or revisit earlier courses if they need to fill knowledge gaps.

According to Matt Rhoton, CTO at ASU’s enterprise unit EdPlus, one of the platform’s benefits is that it will offer personalized education journeys for adult learners looking to build their own degrees.

Matt Rhoton
Online learners come at different stages. They could be married, with a kid and have a full-time job.”

Matt Rhoton CTO, EdPlus

“Online learners come at different stages. They could be married, with a kid and have a full-time job. They may be looking to upskill,” Rhoton says. “That type of learner is more seasoned. They usually know exactly what they want to do to complete the degree and the time frame in which they want to complete it.”

Considering that adult learners are usually an overlooked segment of students, an adaptive approach could help the university persuade more nontraditional students to enroll.

Orchard will also help reduce the number hours faculty must spend recording videos for online courses. “We’ve got thousands and thousands of videos that have been built and injected into course models and LTIs [learning tools interoperability],” Rhoton says. “Many people don’t even know about them. If everything is tagged and uploaded to Orchard, these videos can be searchable and used for other courses as well.”

Rhoton expects Orchard to fully launch by the end of 2022.

Student Perspective: Here's what I found engaging about asynchronous online classes.

2. Growth of Mobile Learning in Higher Ed

One of the most common ways that students access adaptive learning platforms is through mobile applications. According to EDUCAUSE, 57 percent of students at Colorado Technical University used their phones to access adaptive learning tools.

What’s more, a recent EDUCAUSE QuickPoll found a significant portion of students relying on their phones to access learning materials when connectivity issues arise. According to the poll, 56 percent use a smartphone as a secondary learning device.

“Students are likely using mobile devices because that’s their primary way of interacting with the world,” Alexander says. As mobile learning adoption expands, institutions will need more mobile-friendly learning management systems and apps that offer device detection.

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3. Smarter Artificial Intelligence–Powered Tutors

AI tutors in 2022 will be anything but basic. Google Cloud and Walden University in Minnesota recently developed a new AI tutoring platform that uses machine learning — in addition to an instructor’s competency assessments — to create personalized quizzes, assignments and course recommendations.

Google’s AI platform is distinct from previous AI-enabled tutoring services because it integrates with existing infrastructure more easily. “As we continue to develop this tool, it will allow us to provide personalized instruction at scale to meet the needs and busy lives of adult learners,” Walden’s former Chief Transformation Officer Steven Tom said in a Google Cloud blog post. Walden plans on incorporating student feedback and conducting more testing before rolling out the AI-powered tutor to a larger group of students.

MORE ON EDTECH: Georgia Tech researcher discusses how AI can improve student success.

Meanwhile, Southern New Hampshire University is also planning on using the platform to give students personalized course recommendations. “We are building this ecosystem for a personalized, flexible learner experience that is not tied to seat time,” Travis Willard, SNHU’s chief product officer, told Government Technology. “[It] focuses on stackable microcredentials, creating options for our learners that stack on top of the degrees the university offers today.”

To prevent human developers from embedding racial and gender biases into AI algorithms, Google Cloud’s Head of Education Steven Butschi advised universities and colleges to spend at least a few months weeding out biases in pilot programs, especially in more complex use cases.

EXPLORE: Three cloud security trends to watch for in higher ed in 2022.

4. The Rise of Short-Form, Video-Based Learning

As TikTok’s popularity increases, universities are adapting by utilizing short-form videos to engage Gen Z learners. ASU has a Study Hall playlist on YouTube that uses 2- to 3-minute supplemental education videos to help students understand difficult concepts in their courses.

Georgetown’s Alexander also said he expects video-based learning to increase next year. “It’s impossible to overstate how much humans love video. We love making it, we love consuming it,” Alexander says. “People are making trailers for books, trailers for academic classes and the tools for video just keep getting easier.”

However, he warns IT departments that the rise of video-based learning may require infrastructure upgrades to keep up with demand. He recalls an incident from 15 years ago when a professor told her students to upload video assignments to the campus cloud. “She didn’t precisely say ‘the finished work,’ so they uploaded all their pre-rendered video to the cloud at the same time. It just shut down the entire campus infrastructure,” he said.

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5. Advanced VR and Immersive Learning Technologies

With MicrosoftCisco and Facebook jumping into the metaverse business, mixed reality collaboration tools may soon be ubiquitous.

In 2022, Microsoft Teams users will be able to use Microsoft Mesh, a mixed reality platform where online students can communicate with instructors through 3D avatars. Cisco is also piloting an augmented reality meeting space called Webex Hologram.

To help online learners feel an emotional connection with class materials, ASU has partnered with virtual reality company Dreamscape Immersive (whose producers hail from Hollywood) to design Dreamscape Learn, a platform that brings the “emotional power of Hollywood storytelling” to classes that utilize VR.

To prevent cost from becoming a hindrance to scaling, ASU will also make 2D formats available for those without a VR headset.

Photography by Sergey Narevskih/Stocksy

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