Jan 11 2022

Open Learning Environments May Help More People Obtain a College Education

By removing data silos, colleges and universities can begin to capitalize on new, value-added opportunities.

Over the past two years, higher educational institutions around the world scrambled to adapt to the realities of a global pandemic. This year, we hopefully will find ourselves on more solid ground, and colleges and universities will get the chance to reset and develop a strategic approach for the future. In 2022, with two years of experience and data to reflect on, education institutions can take a deeper look at how they adapted and what changes still need to be made to ensure future success and resilience.

Higher education institutions today must ask themselves a question: Are we digitally ready and flexible enough to support our students no matter what happens in the next five to 15 years?

The answer for successful institutions will depend on whether or not they make every effort to create an open learning environment for their students.

In 2022, we see three key shifts happening in the higher education space, all supporting open learning environments.

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Unsilo Data to Draw Crucial Insights

Traditionally, student data — from application to graduation — spends its lifecycle traveling from silo to silo. From admissions to faculty and administration and alumni, data is processed by different parties and used for specific insights. This makes it difficult to piece together a broader picture of the individual’s higher education experience.

For example, as members of the workforce seek to expand their skills, new opportunities emerge for universities to engage alumni in continued education. But if alumni data remains in a silo only available to the advancement office, for example, opportunities to engage lifelong learners remain untapped.

In 2022, we expect universities to take a more holistic look at data and begin to remove silos to allow information to be accessed and analyzed by cross-functional teams. For institutions to successfully remove silos, they don’t need to rip and replace existing systems. Instead, they can modernize current systems in a thoughtful, secure, sustainable and efficient way. For example, UCLA implemented an API management platform to create an environment for building modern applications and digital services on its legacy systems, which allowed the university to connect disparate data sources in a seamless way. Universities will need to find partners to help them identify not only what needs to be modernized but how to go about it.

EXPLORE: The growth of learning analytics and adaptive learning in higher ed.

Expand Learning Opportunities and Student Engagement

In 2022 and beyond, we’ll see colleges and universities home in on how they engage their students beyond the classroom. One of the keys in delivering a high-quality experience to the maximum number of students is to offer more options, add flexibility to existing processes and services, and lower barriers to interaction. Technology can help support all those elements.

Institutions can use artificial intelligence-based virtual assistants to answer student questions online 24/7. Likewise, course selection can be made predictive, using data analytics to deliver personalized recommendations of courses that an individual may be interested in or that may be required for degree completion.

While seeking frictionless online experiences, students expect to have real-time support to address their questions. According to a BCG survey, 64 percent of students expect real-time assistance and 75 percent prefer personal interactions — even if they are facilitated by virtual agents. AI-powered tutors, like Walden University’s Julian, and digital assistants can enrich students’ experiences throughout their college careers, providing additional learning opportunities and delivering real-time support without putting additional strain on human resources.

DIVE DEEPER: Georgia Tech researcher discusses how AI can improve student success.

Support Every Student Demographic

Over the past few decades, student populations have changed rapidly. More women now attend college than men, and enrollment among people of color is at its highest and growing. Additionally, people are attending college later in life as they pivot to new careers or pursue new passions.

In 2022, we’ll continue to see a demand for personalized educational approaches and technologies. To meet the demands of an increasingly diverse student body, universities will need to maximize their technology investments. The newfound flexibility and ease of access will open education to more individuals, especially those who may not otherwise have considered pursuing a college degree.

The pandemic has forced us to reimagine the entire education ecosystem for many reasons. In 2022, we’ll continue to see expanded forms of learning become more acceptable and accessible. We’ll see new types of students who are demanding a strong, user-friendly online presence from their institutions with a more personalized experience. Each of these transformative changes can be implemented by adopting an open learning framework that can deliver the flexibility for universities to adapt and succeed in an ever-changing, highly competitive higher education landscape.

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