How tech is changing university: Digital revolution’s impact on the way we study

How tech is changing university: Digital revolution’s impact on the way we study
How tech is changing university. Image source: Pexels

The landscape of higher education is undergoing a profound transformation, driven by the relentless advances in technology. Educational technology, often referred to as EdTech, has become a powerful force reshaping traditional approaches to teaching and learning in Higher Education institutions. This disruption brings both challenges and opportunities as institutions strive to adapt to the rapidly evolving educational landscape, an expert says.

“The emergence of the digital revolution within higher education marks a pivotal shift, granting unprecedented access to information with just a tap or click.  This transformative wave challenges conventional educational paradigms by elevating online platforms, interactive tools, and virtual classrooms into positions of prominence,” says Dr Mario Landman, Head of Educational Technology, and Innovation at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s leading private higher education provider.

He says a key focal point of this new era is the democratisation of knowledge as educational resources become more accessible to a global audience and, resultingly, faces greater scrutiny.

“The rise of tech in ed is having a profound impact on seven key areas of study, and it is  important for higher education institutions, as well as parents and prospective students, to understand how the environment has changed, continues to change, and where it is headed,” he says.

  • Greater access via online learning platforms

“Educational technology has notably revolutionised how education is delivered, as evidenced through the dramatic ascent of education providers utilising online learning platforms for programme delivery. The seismic impact of educational technology has been further underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic, catalysing the rapid rise of education providers leveraging online learning platforms for program delivery. This newfound flexibility is particularly beneficial for non-traditional students, working professionals, and those in remote or underserved areas,” notes Dr Landman.

  • Best of both worlds via blended learning environments

Educational technology has paved the way for blended learning, combining traditional face-to-face instruction with online components.

“This hybrid approach allows for a personalised learning experience, leveraging the strengths of both in-person interactions and digital resources. Institutions are increasingly incorporating learning management systems (LMS) to empower educators to create engaging, personalised learning experiences while streamlining administrative processes and fostering collaboration,” Dr Landman says.

  • Adaptive learning systems means no more ‘one-size-fits-all’

Adaptive learning systems use data-driven insights to tailor educational content to individual student needs.

“By analysing a student’s performance and learning style, these systems can dynamically adjust the difficulty and pace of lessons. This personalised approach enhances student engagement and comprehension, addressing the diverse needs of a student population with varying learning abilities.”

  • Personalised learning paths cater to specific student needs

Dr Landman further says that personalised learning in higher education offers a range of benefits that cater to the individual needs, preferences, and abilities of students.

“As educational institutions increasingly recognise the diverse learning styles and backgrounds of their students, the implementation of personalised learning becomes crucial.

“There are some key benefits to providing personalised learning paths in higher education that includes tailored instructional approaches, adapting teaching methods to suit the individual learning styles and pace of each student. This will also include individualised support for struggling students by providing targeted interventions and additional support, addressing specific areas of difficulty, and preventing students from falling behind.”

By recognising and responding to individual needs of students, institutions can foster a culture of continuous improvement and better prepare students for success in both academia and the professional world.

While advances in EdTech come with substantial opportunities, it does not come without challenges that must be navigated, says Dr Landman.

  • Eliminating digital exclusion is paramount

The digital divide remains a significant challenge, as not all students have equal access to technology and the internet.

“Higher education institutions, as well as relevant authorities, must address issues of digital inclusion to ensure that all students, regardless of their socio-economic background, can benefit from the advantages of educational technology,” says Dr Landman.

  • Faculty development requires that no leader be left behind

The integration of educational technology requires faculty to acquire new skills and adapt their teaching methods.

“These initiatives should be designed to empower educators not only to adeptly harness technology within traditional classrooms and online settings, but also to continually stay abreast of emerging advancements,” says Dr Landman.

“By nurturing a culture of ongoing learning and resilience in the face of new developments, these programmes should equip faculty members with the skills and agility needed to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technologically supported and mediated education practices.”

  • Data management, security, and privacy: Safety first

With the pervasive integration of online platforms and data-driven tools in education, institutions face a burgeoning challenge: the management and effective utilisation of copious student data generated through interactions with learning management platforms.

“This influx of data poses a daunting task, demanding efficient strategies to navigate and harness its potential effectively. Also, with increased interaction online, safeguarding student data should also stand as a paramount responsibility for educational institutions. Education providers must not only prioritise but also proactively establish stringent measures to protect sensitive student information. Such measures should not only safeguard personal information but also cultivate an environment of trust and reliability, crucial for fostering a healthy and secure learning environment.”

Dr Landman says it is clear that educational technology is fundamentally reshaping higher education in South Africa, as in the rest of the world.

“EdTech offers a pathway to a more inclusive, flexible, and personalised learning experience. Navigating this disruption requires a strategic approach, addressing challenges while capitalising on the vast opportunities presented by technology. As we embrace the digital transformation of higher education, it is crucial to maintain a commitment to quality, accessibility, and the enduring value of education in shaping the future.”